One year after surprise World Series run, the Diamondbacks are struggling to produce a worthy sequel

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's ascension into baseball's elite during an unexpected run to the World Series was one of baseball's biggest stories last year, when a young Diamondbacks team nearly won the title.

The sequel has been slow to develop.

The D-backs have a 21-23 record roughly one-quarter through the schedule and sit in third place in the National League West, 7 1/2 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Even more concerning, some of the team's young stars — particularly reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll — are struggling.

The 23-year-old Carroll is batting just .193 with two homers and a .539 OPS. He got a day off on Wednesday, ahead of the team's scheduled day off Thursday, as manager Torey Lovullo tried to give the speedy outfielder a two-day break.

“It's tough, man,” veteran first baseman Christian Walker said of Carroll's struggles. “I've been there, it's part of the roller coaster. It sucks and it seems silly to say this is just part of it, but it is. It's the league counter-punching. He had a great year so he's got a target on his back. It would be odd for teams not to pitch him as hard as they can."

Walker doesn't think it's a long-term problem.

“He'll be fine,” he said. “We're going to look back at this in August and laugh for sure.”

Carroll set a high bar during his rookie season after the D-backs signed him to an $111 million, eight-year deal, batting .285 with 30 doubles, 10 triple, 25 homers and 54 stolen bases.

Some of the D-backs' other young players are dealing with injuries. Outfielder Alek Thomas has been out since early April with a hamstring injury. All-Star shortstop Geraldo Perdomo has also been out most of the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Carroll battled some shoulder issues last year, but Lovullo says that hasn't been a recent problem. The soft-spoken outfielder said he's made his swing “too flat” and added that "it's been a lot of work to try and create better attack angles.”

Carroll still brings value to the D-backs with his above-average outfield defense at multiple spots, but there's little doubt they'll need his bat to make another trip to the postseason.

“He's trending in a positive way, in my opinion,” Lovullo said. “He's checking off of pitches, he's getting himself into better hitting counts, the contact has been a little more consistent. The trajectory is right.”

It hasn't been all bad news for the Diamondbacks, particularly over the past couple weeks. They've won seven of their past 10 games, shaking off a rash of injuries. Veteran second baseman Ketel Marte is playing at an All-Star level and on pace for a 10 WAR season. Walker has been his usual power presence in the middle of the batting order while playing Gold Glove defense at first base.

Righty Zac Gallen is again one of the best pitchers with a 5-2 record and 2.86 ERA. Second-year pitcher Brandon Pfaadt has built on last season's postseason success with a team-high 54 innings and a 4.17 ERA. Closer Paul Sewald recently returned from injury, helping solidify the bullpen.

The Diamondbacks could also get some reinforcements during the summer.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who has an oblique injury, is expected to return after signing an $80 million, four-year deal. Veteran righty Merrill Kelly is dealing with a strained shoulder, but should also be back on the mound at some point.

The D-backs were 57-59 last Aug. 11 before recovering to squeeze into the playoffs.

“We're just staggering a little, we need to get that throttle right, we need to go out and play our type of baseball,” Lovullo said. “And we will.”