The Arizona Diamondbacks are now heading into the unofficial second half of the season and, through 95 games, lead the National League West by 2.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They're in first place due in large part to the offensive prowess of All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The unassuming infielder is hitting .313 with 77 RBI and 21 home runs on the season, carrying an offense that has struggled to find consistency around him, and particularly behind him.
"Well, I mean, we've relied heavily on Goldy," said manager Kirk Gibson when asked about his offense before the All Star break. "We've had other contributions but if we can get everybody clicking together it will make it much easier on everybody."
Goldschmidt has hit primarily in the three-hole with 293 of his 352 at-bats coming at that spot in the batting order, and Gibson knows that the first baseman needs some help behind him, particularly from left-handed hitters.
Lefties Miguel Montero, Eric Chavez and Jason Kubel and righties Cody Ross and Aaron Hill have all occupied the cleanup spot behind Goldschmidt this season, but with Goldschmidt being a righty, having a solid left-handed hitter that's an offensive threat to follow would be helpful. Unfortunately, Montero and Kubel have struggled mightily thus far, with Chavez being the lone bright spot in a limited number of plate appearances.
The fourth player in the batting order is almost always one of the best hitters on the team and often the one with the most power. Managers tend to place hitters who are most likely to reach base AHEAD of the cleanup man so the fourth batter can "clean up" or clear the bases. Their purpose is also to extend and inning with a high batting average and high number of walks.
In 166 at-bats in the four-hole, Montero is hitting .211 with 18 RBI, 39 strikeouts and 23 walks. In 2012 Montero hit cleanup for a total of 169 at-bats, with a .254 average and 27 RBI.
Kubel has had far less at-bats than Montero in the cleanup spot in 2013, with just 22. He's hitting .227 in that role with two RBI, five strikeouts and three walks. Last year he recorded 170 at-bats from the fourth spot in the order, tallying .276 average and 35 RBI.
Gibson, though, said the team has been fortunate to remain in first place despite struggling to find offense on a consistent basis.
"We've found a way to get it done, that's a good sign. Kubel hadn't hit a home run in over a month and he's gotta do that," said the skipper, noting the outfielder had gone yard the night before. "If we can get that going, it will have a significant impact on our season in the second half."
As stated earlier, Chavez is the lone bright spot hitting fourth so far this season for lefties. There he's had 58 at-bats and driven in 14 runs with three home runs and recorded a .345 average. Chavez has also missed some time with injury and is not an everyday player due to his age and history of injury. He's participated in 46 games with 145 total ABs.
The next best option for Gibson in the cleanup spot may be Cody Ross. The righty has had 70 at-bats there in 2013, and he's posted a .314 average with five walks and nine runs scored.
Any way you look at it, it's clear: Paul Goldschmidt is going to need some assistance in the second half of the season for him to be successful and, more importantly, for the team to be successful and make their way into the postseason. Goldschmidt's numbers in RBI, home runs, runs scored, OBP and SLG all rank in the top five for first baseman in all of baseball, so he's clearly doing his part.
As for the rest of the team in the cleanup role, the D-backs rank 16th in batting average at .260 and 25th in RBI with 44.
"I think we envisioned there would be more consistency from everybody and there hasn't been," said Gibson.
Gibson is likely hoping his guys used the All-Star break to recharge their batteries for a solid and consistent second half, especially at the plate. We'll find out on Friday when they start a series with the Giants in San Francisco.