Here are some keys to success this homestand:
1. The offense needs to wake up quickly
One thing that has stuck out to me in the first handful of games is how comically unlucky the Diamondbacks have been. You can point to a myriad of reasons the offense isn't succeeding, most notably being their third-highest strikeout rate in the majors at 26.3%, but the stat that jumped out to me is the team's BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, of .213. That is the lowest in the majors. That is substantially lower than league average of .280 and signals to me that this team is just getting unlucky.
I haven't been disappointed by the quality of contact, and the strikeouts do not matter to me that much. The Diamondbacks have the highest walk rate in the league with 12.7%. The difference between bad and good right now is getting those runners home. You can get on base all you want, but you need to score. Wednesday's game against the Nationals shouldn't be an outlier. All the signals are there for this team to really break out offensively, it'll just take time.
2. A return to form for the Bullpen
For a team whose biggest liability in 2021 was the bullpen, this team has taken a step forward. The Diamondbacks bullpen ERA in 2021 was 5.08, tied with Washington for second-worst in the majors. So far this season, a respectable 4.44, fifth highest in the majors. That's a pretty average number, but it used to be much better. One of the things that stood out to me about the first homestand was how good the bullpen looked. They looked in control and confident. They've since stumbled a bit, but I still think they're in good shape, They're not allowing a ton of home runs and aren't walking a ton of guys, but they are also dead last in strikeout rate. The defense behind them is definitely a part of that equation and has been a sore spot for the Diamondbacks so far, but I'm confident that corner will also be turned.
The additions to the pen have been a bit of a mixed bag thus far. Mark Melancon has looked on some days and completely gassed others. Oliver Perez had a great first outing on opening day, then a not-so-great one the next day where he gave up two runs, and most recently gave up three runs to the Nationals. 2021 waiver claim Kyle Nelson has looked great. I don't have much to say about him other than I hope he keeps this great work up. Finally, Ian Kennedy hasn't looked great, feeling like a difference-maker that doesn't wind up favoring Arizona most of the time, but the bottom line with all of these guys is that we're looking at a really small sample size. Nobody in the bullpen has pitched more than six innings. and we'll be able to learn more soon.
3. No. 1 and No. 5 Need to Impress
I'm just going to come out and say it: I have been impressed with Madison Bumgarner. He has taken a major step forward, even though he's still walking a few too many batters. I'll take less innings and less runs allowed over more innings and more runs allowed any day of the week. But I'm wanting to see continued success from him before I make any decisive judgments, although I am substantially more optimistic than I was on opening day.
The number five spot continues to be a question mark though. I fully expected Luke Weaver, got Caleb Smith, and now it's Humberto Castellanos? Castellanos has looked pretty good out of the pen this season. His first start, also against the Mets, looked pretty darn good. Four innings, no runs, three walks, and a hit? No complaints here. It feels like everyone that's a candidate for this rotation spot would run into pitch count issues, so that's not a huge concern for me. I'm looking forward to seeing him open up this homestand.
And that's all I've got! What are you looking for this homestand? What pitching matchup are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @xwOBAplus!