There was always hope that a young, funky team would finally not just get the best of the Dodgers, but signal the end of the now decade long run of the Dodgers running roughshod over the NL West. Yes, the Giants got them once, in a season where the Dodgers still won 106 games. And we know what happened in the first round. We just assumed it would be the expensive collection of kids in San Diego. Turns out, it might be the less expensive collection of even younger kids in Phoenix?
The Diamondbacks are 29-20, which gives them the third-best record in the National League and only a game, and a half behind the Dodgers in the West. While the D-Backs were expected to be improved and interesting, even by the ugliest and most bewildered writers, contention has come early for the Snakes.
So you may ask yourself, how did they get here? If the plan for Arizona was to bring a raft of young hitters through the system and then watch them blossom together, that’s pretty much where we are going. Six of their nine hitters who have over 100 PAs so far this season have a wRC+ over 115. You can toss a seventh on the list in Dominic Fletcher, who was called up on the last day of April, and has taken over the centerfield job. Fletcher also does stuff like this in the field with the game on the line:
Expected batting average on this ball hit by Kyle Schwarber: .930.
Along with Fletcher, the youth movement is also carried by preseason, and probably current Rookie Of The Year favorite Corbin Carroll, catcher Gabriel Moreno, shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, and three-fifths of the rotation.
Old man take a look at my life
But hey, every youth needs a mentor, and Arizona has those too. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can’t make an out right now, with a current 13-game hitting streak, and a 1.256 OPS in May. He also has hair like this:
(though we’ll certainly excuse you if you can’t find fun in Gurriel)
Perdomo has been the real surprise, as he wasn’t seen as much more than a glove-only shortstop, never having really hit above high-A. And he’s certainly on the good side of some fiendish BABIP treachery, with a .370 mark in that category while outrunning his expected slugging by 200 points. It won’t last, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been one of the best defenders at short this season, quite valuable in itself.
The one guy who isn’t hitting is Josh Rojas at third, but he’s been one of the best defensive shortstops in the league in both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. For visual proof, see here and here.
While the rotation overall has been shaky (17th in ERA) it has been more than held together by the Cy Young candidacy through two months of Zac Gallen. And he thinks the Cardinals’ bullshit is stupid, so you have to find him fun. Gallen is carrying a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-.200 FIP with a 6-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio. Gallen has leaned heavily on his curveball this season, throwing it nearly a third of the time, and getting a 41 percent whiff rate on it. Now that the D-Backs have jettisoned professional red-ass Madison Bumgarner into the sun, they’re certainly a much lighter bunch, and the rotation behind Gallen is filled with kids Ryne Nelson, Brandon Pfaadt, and Tommy Henry, all 25, or under. And all aren’t trying to take the game back to 1972, without the drugs, like Bumgarner. All have had their bumps, but Arizona is hoping that this is what the rotation will look like for seasons to come.
Who knows how long this can last? Even if Gallen can carry this out for a full season, Nelson, Pfaadt, and Henry will have their growing pains along with fatigue come the end of the season. The kids in the lineup will get the scouting report blues soon enough. Gurriel eventually will remember he’s almost 40. And we all know that dyed hair fades in time and the roots grow in if that is the source of his magic.
But for now, there is fun to be had. And they’re new, and if nothing else, to repeat, they punted Bumgarner to the curb as unceremoniously as possible. Let’s take what we can get.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate to find out if he actually, one day, turns on a Cubs game.