Entering play Monday, every team in the National League West was at .500 or better. For three of the five teams, that isn’t surprising. But for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks? This was expected to be a rough season for both of those teams, although there were small signs of optimism entering 2022, including young, up-and-coming hitters on both rosters.
Now, how long will that last? Well, at least for a day, it ended Monday as the Rockies lost to the San Francisco Giants 7-6, Colorado’s 11th straight setback in the series that dropped them to 17-18. But the axiom that a baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint certainly holds true. And while the Rockies and D’backs certainly aren’t rabbits in this 162-game race, their endurance can be questioned until they prove otherwise.
But for now, enjoy the ride.
While the four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers that opened Monday certainly isn’t a make-or-break set for Arizona, it can be an emotional bellwether for a team that had won three straight series before dropping two of three to the Chicago Cubs over the weekend. A split on the road should certainly boost the optimism for the next segment of the season.
Improving play at Chase Field would also help. The D’backs are 10-11 and have been outscored 78-68 at home while going 8-7 yet still being outscored 66-60 on the road.
Reason for optimism: The starting rotation has been the biggest positive thus far. Starters are second in MLB with a 2.59 ERA and the team is 12th with a 3.58 ERA. Merrill Kelly (1.71) and Zac Gallen (1.05) each have ERAs under 2.00 and Madison Bumgarner is at 2.29, while Zach Davies (3.75) and Humberto Castellanos (4.15) aren’t that far behind. How long this group stays healthy and continues to perform will go a long way toward determining the team’s status the rest of the way.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) May 3, 2022
Reason for panic: Well, there is no place to go but up for the offense. The D’backs are next-to-last in MLB with a .203 team batting average (the Oakland A’s are at .199). Of particular concern, second baseman Ketel Marte, who hit .318 in 2021, continues to struggle, putting up a .219/.289/.383 slash line. But he isn’t alone. Of the 15 players with at least 25 at-bats, none have a batting average above .250, with Daulton Varsho coming close at .246. The good news is when the D’backs do make contact, they are pretty good at launching the long ball, ranking 10th with 37. First baseman Christian Walker crushed his seventh Monday, with Varsho next at six. Slumping Seth Beer, the Opening Day hero, was sent to the minors after a recent 0-for-37 skid.
Injuries: Shortstop Nick Ahmed is back in the 10-day IL, but no injury was disclosed. Ahmed started the year on the IL with a shoulder injury and missed Friday’s game due to the right shoulder. Right-hander Luke Weaver (right elbow inflammation) threw his third bullpen season Friday and could be nearing a rehab assignment, while catcher Carson Kelly’s status remains up in the air after he went on the injured list on May 8 with a strained oblique. Right-hander J.B. Bukauskas (strained teres major, 60-day IL) has resumed throwing but is a ways off from returning.
For any World Series contender, there comes a point of the season where you face a critical juncture regarding personnel. Even with it being so early in the season, this kind of has that feeling for the Dodgers and their starting rotation.
With Trevor Bauer potentially not ever wearing a Dodgers uniform again, Clayton Kershaw joined fellow left-hander Andrew Heaney on the IL on Friday. While Kershaw’s absence is expected to be brief, that is three-fifths of a projected rotation out and sent manager Dave Roberts scrambling to find able bodies to start after Walker Buehler and Julio Urías. Michael Grove, a second-round pick in 2018, made the jump from Double-A Tulsa to start Sunday to make his MLB debut, Tony Gonsolin pitched six strong innings Monday and Tyler Anderson will take the second game of today’s doubleheader. David Price, on the COVD-19 IL, could be back next week and is an option to start, while Mitch White is on a rehab assignment and building up to be a starter, Roberts said.
For a team that lives with its pitching, stabilizing the rotation is a priority.
Reason for optimism: Well, the Dodgers are still in first place and they have scored the second-most runs in MLB (and in Los Angeles: The Angels lead with 186, with the Dodgers at 179). While there is a fair amount of fan negativity about the team at the moment — especially after dropping two of three to the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend — the Dodgers have a roster built for a run at the World Series. Remember, they had a rough stretch in May last year and still finished the month 16-11 en route to 106 wins.
GAVIN LUX WALK IT OFF. pic.twitter.com/qaSgEaugO2
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) May 15, 2022
Reason for panic: Could the Dodgers be facing key decisions with Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy? Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, has regressed after an early good start and is slashing .202/.261/.419 with five homers and 14 RBIs. Muncy could be more concerning as he has a .163/.341/.298 slash line. While still drawing his share of walks, the production out from your expected cleanup hitter is not there with three homers and 13 RBIs. Muncy bunted for a hit Monday.
Injuries: Kershaw (sacroiliac joint) threw Sunday and is scheduled for a bullpen Wednesday, with the hope of him returning when his time on the 15-day IL. Heaney (left shoulder discomfort) has also resumed throwing, but he is not expected to be back until June. Reliever Blake Treinen (right shoulder inflammation) remains out until after the All-Star break and left-hander Victor González (left elbow inflammation) had surgery and likely won’t be back until late August. Lefty Caleb Ferguson (Tommy John surgery) was activated off the IL Monday and pitched in an MLB game for the first time since Sept. 15, 2020. Lefty Danny Duffy (elbow) isn’t expected back until just before the All-Star break. Dustin May continues his slow progress and remains on track to return late in the season, likely in a relief role.
While manager Gabe Kapler set Twitter ablaze by asking, “If you have a full beard, do you also have a mustache?” San Francisco is still treading water amid a key stretch of early games. After a 14-7 April, the Giants are 7-7 in May after Monday’s win vs. the Rockies. That came after dropping two of three over the weekend in St. Louis and before facing the San Diego Padres, the New York Mets, and the Phillies in three of the next four series.
The Giants are scoring enough runs to win a majority of their games (and hold a plus-34 run differential), but haven’t quite pitched as well as they did last season en route to 107 wins and a surprising division title. So talking about facial hair (it has a charitable aspect as well as team-building) is a way to distract from any struggles.
Yaski strikes again 🥸 pic.twitter.com/4bLSXUiDdc
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) May 17, 2022
Reason for optimism: We will go a little off the board here. Second baseman Tommy La Stella was activated Monday from the IL following his recovery from Achilles surgery and started as the designated hitter. His return has been anticipated as he provides a spark to the offense. As mentioned above, the Giants haven’t had trouble scoring (they rank third in MLB with 176 runs), but the left-handed hitter just gives the lineup a little extra depth.
Reason for panic: A 3.77 team ERA is hardly cause for concern, but it does put the Giants in the middle of the pack in MLB (17th). The splits between starters (3.79) and relievers (3.74) are pretty much down the middle, just not at the level of where the Giants were last season when the bullpen was the best in MLB with a 2.99 ERA. But Giants relievers will need to step up to keep the team at or near the top of the West standings.
Injuries: Right-handed starter Anthony DeSclafani (right ankle inflammation) is still slated to return in the next two weeks, as is left-handed reliever Jake McGee (lower back tightness). Left-hander Matthew Boyd (left flexor tendon surgery) and outfielder Steven Dugger (strained left oblique) are both expected back sometime in June.
There is a magic number in San Diego. It is four. As in score four runs and the Padres seem to be a good bet to leave the ballpark a winner. When the Padres score at least four runs this season, they are 15-4. When they don’t, they are 5-9. Relatedly, the Padres are 14-1 when allowing three runs or less.
While that is a pretty normal number for a team’s success, the fact that the Padres are experiencing a start similar to last season bodes well. Lest you forget, the Padres were 67-49 on Aug. 10 before finishing below .500 at 79-83. Plus, the fact that they are having success now and remaining in contention with Fernando Tatis Jr. on the IL could make them dangerous once the shortstop returns from his wrist surgery.
Reason for optimism: While third baseman Manny Machado has drawn a majority of the headlines — and deservedly so — for his torrid start (.359/.443/.586 slash line with seven homers and 23 RBIs), first baseman Eric Hosmer deserves as much credit for keeping the Padres’ offense afloat. The lefty hitter is slashing .350/.412/.512 with four homers and a team-leading 24 RBIs.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) May 14, 2022
Reason for panic: While the rotation has been pretty decent, the bullpen has been very mediocre as a group with a 4.18 ERA (23rd in MLB). Four of the eight relievers with at least nine appearances have ERAs above 4.00, including two north of 9.00. One of those two, Dinelson Lamet, was just sent down to Triple-A to get straightened out. Lamet has been used exclusively this season out of the bullpen, posting a 9.72 ERA and .313 opponent batting average in 8⅓ innings covering 10 games. His performance comes two years removed from a shortened 2020 season in which he had a 2.09 ERA in 12 appearances, all starts, with 20 walks and 93 strikeouts in 69 innings. Left-hander Tim Hill (11.12 ERA) is on the IL with left shoulder inflammation.
Injuries: Manager Bob Melvin (prostate surgery) is expected to return to the bench this weekend in San Francisco. No cancer was found during the procedure. Left-hander Blake Snell (left adductor tightness) is scheduled to be activated from the IL and start Wednesday at Philadelphia. Outfielder Matt Beaty (left shoulder impingement) will be out until June. For Tatis, who had wrist surgery on March 16, there is no timetable, but he is fielding grounders in Arizona. However, he has not begun swinging the bat. Right-hander Pierce Johnson (right elbow tendonitis) won’t be back until late June. Two other key relievers, lefty Drew Pomeranz (flexor tendon surgery) and righty Austin Adams (right forearm strain), could be back in June or early July. Righty Michael Baez and lefty Adrian Morejon are both recovering from Tommy John surgery and might be back midseason.
In case you were wondering, the key to Colorado’s success this season has been home cooking. They are 12-8 and have outscored their opponents 125-108 at Coors Field through Monday. Of course, that means the road results have been the opposite, with a 5-10 mark and a being outscored a whopping 87-41.
Those numbers do suggest a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors act for the Rockies to be around .500 at this point of the season. Considering the pitching staff’s 4.97 ERA, which ranks 28th in MLB, the Rockies should feel fortunate to have won as many games as they have. One place they have shown strength is in close games, going 5-1 in one-run contests.
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) May 17, 2022
Reason for optimism: Center fielder Yonathan Daza has emerged as an offensive force. Known as a defense-first player, Daza hit .206 in 97 at-bats in 2020 and .282 in 301 ABs last year. But this season, Daza is slashing .391/.437/.453 in 64 at-bats with no homers and seven RBIs. His high average has compensated for the slow starts by Charlie Blackmon and Randal Grichuk. Still, the Rockies lead the majors with a .261 team batting average and are seventh in runs scored with 166.
Reason for panic: Pitching, pure and simple. And that situation took a turn for the worse Monday when right-hander Antonio Senzatela left after two innings with a lower back strain that manager Bud Black said would land the pitcher on the 10-day IL. Senzatela has a 4.55 ERA in seven starts and it is not known how severe the injury is and how much time he could miss. Colorado has little starting depth and Rockies starters have a 4.68 ERA (25th in MLB), while the bullpen checks in at an MLB-worst 5.40. Combine that with a defense that has been spotty this season and you can understand why the Rockies have been walking a tightrope.
Injuries: Left fielder Kris Bryant is slated to return Friday against the New York Mets. He has been out since April 29 with a lower back strain and will begin a brief rehab assignment today. Right-hander Peter Lambert, who had Tommy John surgery in 2020 and had some issues in spring training due to that procedure, is going on a rehab assignment and could be a candidate to eventually fill a spot in the rotation once he builds himself up.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)