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5 observations from Diamondbacks’ series win over Rockies

Jesse Friedman Avatar
May 9, 2022

Following the Arizona Diamondbacks’ ninth win in their last 12 games, valley sports fans are starting to feel what it’s like to root for a winning baseball team again. It’s been a while.

The team’s newfound success has even offered a respite for the Phoenix Suns, who have seen their team stumble through the second round of the playoffs.

Here are five observations from from the D-backs’ series win over the Colorado Rockies.

1. Starting pitching remains dominant

Call it a hot start, the Brent Strom effect or whatever you like, but there’s no disputing the fact that the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation has been one of the best in baseball through the first month of the season.

That was no different against the Rockies, as all three starters — Merrill Kelly, Zach Davies and Zac Gallen — pitched into or past the seventh inning, and they allowed only one run combined.

Over their last nine games, Diamondbacks starting pitchers have thrown 52 innings, allowing just five earned runs on 33 hits with six walks and 38 strikeouts. That works out to a 0.87 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. 

Great starting pitching covers a multitude of sins, and the Diamondbacks are a prime example. Despite a slow start from the offense, an inconsistent bullpen and too many defensive lapses, the Diamondbacks are 15-14, even having played the most difficult schedule in baseball to date.

It’s worth noting that underlying metrics suggest the D-backs starting pitchers haven’t pitched as well as their collective 2.21 ERA indicates. 

The first red flag is their 19.1 percent strikeout rate, which ranks 24th in the majors. They’ve relied heavily on a .233 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is the lowest mark in the league. Essentially, that means opposing hitters have been very unlucky getting batted balls to fall in for hits. 

The current league-wide BABIP is .284. Since 1876, no starting pitching staff has finished a season with a BABIP at or below where the D-backs’ currently stands.

All that is to say the Diamondbacks are going to need more contributions in other facets of the game to maintain their winning ways. For now, that doesn’t take anything away from 22 innings of one-run ball, which is precisely what Kelly, Davies and Gallen tallied over the weekend.

Ketel Marte reacts after hitting a single at Chase Field against the Rockies. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Ketel Marte is starting to look like himself

It may be easy to forget that MLB Network ranked Ketel Marte the best second baseman in baseball less than two months ago. He finished April slashing .146/.211/.256.

Marte looked much better at the plate against the Rockies, going 5-for-10 with two doubles and two walks. His body language at the plate has noticeably improved, and even his at-bats that end in outs are still quality at-bats.

Over his last seven games, Marte is slashing .417/.517/.792. It’s hard to say what could be more important for the team’s success than getting Marte — who has been far and away the team’s best hitter over the past three seasons — back to being an All-Star caliber player.

Alek Thomas is greeted at the dugout by manager Torey Lovullo after scoring a run in his MLB debut. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

3. Alek Thomas doubles in his first big-league game

Arguably the biggest news of the weekend was the promotion of 22-year-old outfield prospect Alek Thomas, who went 1-for-3 with a double in his major-league debut on Sunday. 

Thomas replaces catcher Carson Kelly on the active roster, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left oblique. Kelly’s absence creates more opportunity behind the plate for Daulton Varsho, which should in turn create opportunity for Thomas in center field.

Mike Hazen told reporters that Thomas will “get a little runway here to go and show us what he can do,” presumably implying that Thomas will get regular playing time.

Thomas slashed .277/.362/.495 with four homers, 14 RBI, eight doubles and a triple in 24 games with Triple-A Reno.

Mark Melancon pitches against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field. (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

4. Mark Melancon off to shaky start

Diamondbacks closer Mark Melancon blew his first save of the season on Saturday in what turned out to be the team’s only loss of the series. Rockies hitters scored four runs on five hits before Melancon could get the third out of the inning.

No closer is perfect, and there’s nothing alarming about Melancon being 5-for-6 in save opportunities a month into the season. However, opposing hitters are batting .350 with a .395 on-base percentage against him this season and his 9.3 percent strikeout rate is lower than that of 98 percent of pitchers across the league.

Spin rates on all pitches are down this year, which continues a downward trend that dates back to 2017. The year-over-year difference from 2021 is quite small, though, so it’s not as if he can’t still succeed. Nonetheless, he’s going to need to generate more whiffs to continue to convert on 80-plus percent of his save opportunities.

Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker breaks his bat after fouling off a pitch. (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

5. Offense is still waking up

As great as the Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers were over the weekend, the Rockies’ starters were good too, allowing just four earned runs over 18 innings. The Diamondbacks scored a total of nine runs in the series.

Despite recent signs of life, D-backs hitters are still slashing just .194/.285/.347 as a team. They’ve relied heavily on their 31 home runs, which is tied for seventh in baseball. For a team that ranked 29th in homers last year and has brought back a lot of the same hitters, it’s fair to question if the team can maintain this level of home run hitting throughout the rest of the season.

For now, the starting pitching has been so good that all of the team’s other flaws have faded into the background. At some point, the pitching will cool off and the D-backs’ are going to need more from their offense.

For now, the Diamondbacks are 15-14 — the exact record they had on May 4 of last year. Everyone knows how that season ended. The team is on a mission to ensure that doesn’t happen again, and so far, it’s easy to believe it won’t.

Top photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA TODAY Sports

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