Since Major League Baseball adopted the wild card, and now the second wild card, a number of non-division winners have taken full advantage of their opportunity in the postseason. In fact, the 2014 World Series was a battle of two wild-card teams.
Of course, having to partake in a one-game playoff just to get one of the eight spots in the postseason can be a bit of a crapshoot. It makes it difficult for wild-card teams to envision themselves making a deep postseason run until they come out on top in that one-game playoff. But since baseball adopted the two-wild-card system in 2012, few wild-card teams have looked as poised for October success as the this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
In most divisions, the Diamondbacks would be worthy challengers if not the favorite to win the division. But with the Dodgers running away with the division so early in the summer, Arizona has long been resigned to the wild-card spot being its ticket into the postseason. However, the Diamondbacks are not the typical wild-card team that squeaks into the playoffs with a little over 80 wins. They are just as capable of reaching the World Series as any other team in the National League, including the Dodgers.
To many, the Diamondbacks reaching the postseason was a surprise. But if you recall, Arizona entered the 2016 season with high expectations after a busy offseason, only to fall flat on its face. But the team stayed the course and was able to push the reset button in 2017. Using largely the same group of players, the Diamondbacks got a second chance this season and made the most of it.
“The reason we kept the team together in the offseason was because we wanted to give these guys a chance to redeem what happened last season.”
Mike Hazen, Diamondbacks GM
Scoring runs had long been Arizona’s specialty, and that continued to be the case this season. Paul Goldschmidt has had another MVP caliber season, Jake Lamb proved that his breakout season in 2016 wasn’t a fluke, and A.J. Pollock and David Peralta stayed healthy after missing large portions of 2016 due to injury. On top of that, the Diamondbacks added an impact player prior at the trade deadline by acquiring J.D. Martinez. The addition of Martinez gave the Diamondbacks arguably the most potent lineup in the National League.
“Injuries. You had key injuries to key players in the outfield in A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Then they had to move infielders out of their normal positions to try to cover those holes. You do that in a couple of different spots and it starts to add up. Pitching and defense always go hand in hand.”
Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks manager
But the thing that has finally made the Diamondbacks a contender in the National League is their pitching. On paper, it’s largely the same group as last season. But this time around, the Arizona rotation met, or even exceeded, expectations. Zack Greinke remembered that he was a Cy Young pitcher and started performing like it. Patrick Corbin seems to have fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and managed to become the rotation’s workhorse this year. Meanwhile, Zack Godley and Robbie Ray both came out of nowhere to become frontline starters to help give the Diamondbacks the second lowest ERA in the National League.
While this year’s postseason field is absolutely loaded, the Diamondbacks are in no way inferior to any team they may face in the National League playoffs. The argument can be made that they have both the best rotation and the best lineup in the National League, although the three division winners can all make the same claim. But what it means is that the Diamondbacks enter the playoffs on equal footing with their competition and should be seen as quite dangerous if they make it out of the wild-card game.