The Arizona Diamondbacks were my pick to win the NL West before this season, and I’d say about 55% of people had the same general opinion as me. They’re off to a 7-5 start right now, second in the division, but their season is going to get a lot more interesting in the next month or so.
Yesterday, the Diamondbacks placed center fielder Chris Young on the DL with a slight tear in his shoulder ligament as well as a bruised shoulder after a great catch against the Pirates on Tuesday night. After making the catch, Young was pulled from the game. Before his injury, Young led Arizona in all three slash stats, as well as doubles, homers, and RBI. Young is coming off of back to back four win seasons for the Diamondbacks, and is a fantastic fielder in addition to being a good hitter.
Superstar right fielder Justin Upton hasn’t played in the field or gotten an at bat since Monday (though he did pinch run yesterday) due to a thumb injury. Upton first injured the thumb on April 8th, and he’s been playing with the injury since. The team is hopeful that Upton will be able to avoid the DL, but thumb (and hand, for that matter) injuries can linger throughout the season. Upton has just a .623 OPS on the season, and hasn’t homered.
Replacing the pair in the lineup will be Gerardo Parra, a fabulous defender who lost his starting job in left field to Jason Kubel this offseason, and prospect AJ Pollock, who ranked as the Diamondbacks #6 prospect before the season according to Baseball America. You know what you’re getting out of Parra, who won a Gold Glove last season for the Diamondbacks and had a .784 OPS in 141 games last year. He’ll provide defense at the same level (or better) than both Young and Upton, while not being able to match them offensively.
Pollock is the big wild card for the D-Backs. He was the team’s first round pick (19th overall) in the 2009 draft out of Notre Dame, and had a .695 OPS in his pro debut. He missed all of the 2010 season with a fractured elbow, but played in 133 games in 2011 for AA Mobile, OPSing .801 with 41 doubles, eight homers, and 36 stolen bases. He was starting 2012 in AAA Reno, and had an .839 OPS in 12 games. He didn’t homer, but had six doubles and four stolen bases. He made his major league debut yesterday, and started in center field. Pollock is thought of as a good defender, and can play all three outfield positions.
To further complicate Arizona’s situation of missing their top two stars, their schedule gets substantially tougher over the next month. Fro today until May 15th, the Diamondbacks have home series against the Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, and Giants, while they have road series in Miami, Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. Seven of those eight teams are at or above .500 today, while the eighth (Phillies) has won their division for five straight years. Out of those 25 games, could they break .500? Would going 10-15 be a positive without Young and possibly Upton? They’ve only got two off days during that stretch, too.
Arizona is going to need to buckle down and not fall off over the next month, because they could fall well back in the NL West race without Young and Upton. If they’re able to hover around the .500 mark, and get those two back….the Diamondbacks should be in good shape. But if they struggle, it could be a uphill trek for the team over the rest of the season.