6. Arizona Diamondbacks (53–39, plus-92, LT: 3)
The temptation is to worry. You see a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, then an incredible start this season, and you wonder if it might’ve been a fluke. Five straight losses (eight out of nine) can add fuel to the panicky fire.
As always, context is everything. No team in baseball owns a bigger home/road split than the Diamondbacks. They’re hitting an impressive .278/.350/.491 at home and just .238/.304/.382 on the road. Yes, Chase Field is playing like an extreme hitter’s park this year. Still, this is the kind of split you’d expect to see from Rockies hitters, who it’s been argued become even more Jekyll-and-Hyde than a mere raw park adjustment would suggest, due to the drastic changes (and accompanying overcompensation) that comes with switching from mile-high altitude to sea level.
Well, it turns out six of those past nine games have come on the road, with three coming against the stingy Dodgers pitching staff. Sure, there’s no excusing dropping two out of the three at home to the lowly Reds and scoring just a single run over those two losses, so call this a slump if you must.
Still, the pieces are here for a solid finishing kick, and a trip to the postseason. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are true hitting stars who can carry the club. The supporting cast includes David Peralta, Brandon Drury and Chris Owings, all of whom have delivered better-than-average numbers, even after adjusting for Chase Field’s effects.
A bigger reason for optimism is the return of center fielder A.J. Pollock. Two years ago, Pollock blossomed into a five-tool star, batting .315/.367/.498, belting 20 homers, swiping 39 bases, and playing excellent defense in center field. Yes, a fractured elbow cost Pollock most of the 2016 season and a groin injury cost him another month and a half this year. And yes, Pollock hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard since returning on July 4, going 5-for-27 with two extra-base hits. The numbers should come as he puts more space between himself and the groin injury, and sees enough everyday reps. Moreover, the offense should get an additional boost in left field soon: The D-Backs should either get last year’s 31-homer man Yasmany Tomas back soon from a groin injury, or they’ll jump on the trade market for reinforcements.
Now here’s the best reason yet to think positive: math. The Diamondbacks currently own the top wild-card slot in the National League, meaning two teams would need to pass them to scuttle plans for October. If the D-Backs merely play .500 ball from now through the end of the season, they’ll end up with 88 wins. After the Rockies, the next closest wild-card contender is Chicago, which would need to play at a 98-win pace the rest of the season to get to 89. Those are encouraging odds to have working in your favor.