The Arizona Diamondbacks won 94 games a year ago despite having one of the weakest benches in the league. Their playoff roster included retread veterans Geoff Blum, Sean Burroughs and Lyle Overbay, weak-hitting infielder John McDonald, rookie outfielder Collin Cowgill and backup catcher Henry Blanco. None of those players except Overbay really offered much at bat, and heading into 2012, they certainly wouldn't be considered viable backup options in case of an injury to a starter.
That's why the signing of Jason Kubel, while widely criticized as an overpay at two years and $15 million, was understandable: He gave the D-backs another legitimate outfielder, even if it meant pushing defensive whiz Gerardo Parra to a backup role. With center fielder Chris Young landing on the disabled list after crashing into a wall on Tuesday night and Justin Upton fighting a thumb injury that has left him without an RBI, Parra and Kubel will both be in the lineup on a regular basis for at least the next two weeks.
The Diamondbacks didn't release the results of Young's MRI, although they're calling it a shoulder contusion. Upton wasn't in Wednesday's lineup, the second straight game he'll miss. The short-term solution with Upton out will see rookie A.J. Pollock in center field or Willie Bloomquist moving to left field and McDonald playing shortstop with Parra in center. The biggest issue in the next two weeks is that Young and catcher Miguel Montero had been the only guys in the lineup producing, with Young hitting .410/.500/897 and Montero .270/.372/.432. Paul Goldschmidt (.200, one home run) and Kubel (.207, zero home runs) will have to get going.
But this is a team built around its pitching staff, not its lineup. Arizona is 7-4 even though Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter haven't pitched well. In Collmenter's case, it's led to cries for rookie Trevor Bauer to get called up. Still, the rotation hasn't lost a decision, as all four defeats have been charged to the bullpen. After Wednesday's game against the Pirates, however, the schedule will get tougher: series against the Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals, Mets and Cardinals before returning to the NL West. That's a lot of good pitching to potentially face without Young and maybe Upton.
Arizona's situation won't end up being unique. The National League has so much parity and so many teams with legitimate playoff chances that injuries and bench play will be vital keys to the playoff races. Benches and depth are often ignored, but Arizona's will now get tested.