I’m not going to delve in too deep to the sanctions that came out for Louisville basketball. If you want to learn what exactly was going on, here’s a blog I wrote a while back about the scandal in question and here’s what I think about the subject of vacating wins. So let’s get into the next edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days and take a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. One thing I wanted to mention, too. After I had this blog initially finished, the Diamondbacks struck a 3-team trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. The Diamondbacks will be sending second baseman Brandon Drury to the Yankees, the Rays will be sending outfielder Steven Souza Jr to the Diamondbacks, and prospects will be sent to the Rays from the Yankees and DBacks and one to the Diamondbacks from the Yankees. So I had to do some last minute edits to this so forgive me if it might read a little choppy.
Record: 93-69, 2nd in NL West, 11 games behind Los Angeles Dodgers, Owner of Top Wild Card Spot, defeated the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game, Lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS
Notable Offseason Additions: OF Jarrod Dyson, C Alex Avila, RP Fernando Salas, RP Brad Boxberger
Notable Offseason Subtractions: OF JD Martinez, CP Fernando Rodney, C Chris Iannetta, RP JJ Hoover
Best Position Player: 1B Paul Goldschmidt
Best Pitcher: Zack Greinke
C-Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis, Chris Herrmann
SS-Ketel Marte, Chris Owings
CF-AJ Pollock, Jarrod Dyson
RF-Steven Souza Jr, Yasmany Tomas
SP-Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin, Zach Godley, Shelby Miller
Bullpen-Archie Bradley (CP?), Brad Boxberger (CP?), Randall Delgado, TJ McFarland, Yoshihisa Hirano, Andrew Chafin, Braden Shipley
Manager-Torey Lovullo (2nd Season with Diamondbacks, 2017 NL Manager of the Year)
Hitting Coach-Dave Magadan
Pitching Coach-Mike Butcher
1st Base Coach-Dave McKay
3rd Base Coach-Tony Perezchica
Bench Coach-Jerry Naron
The Arizona Diamondbacks had a breakthrough season under first-year manager Torey Lovullo. They completely flipped their record from 2016-17, as they went 69-93 in ’16 and 93-69 in ’17 en route to their first playoff appearance since 2011. One thing that is expected of you in Arizona is that you’re going to hit, as Chase Field kind of flies under the radar a bit as far as hitter-friendly ballparks go mainly because they share a division with the Coors Field-inhabiting Colorado Rockies. But I think Chase Field is the second-most hitter-friendly park in the Majors. Let’s take a look at the lineup that will benefit from this stadium.
1. AJ Pollock-CF
2. Ketel Marte-SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt-1B
4. Jake Lamb-3B
5. David Peralta-LF
6. Steven Souza Jr-RF
7. Daniel Descalso-2B
8. Alex Avila-C
9. Pitcher’s Spot
That’s a pretty well-rounded lineup as it is and when you combine the added boost Chase Field brings, expect the Diamondbacks to finish near the top of the leaderboard in runs scored in 2018. Last year the Diamondbacks finished 8th in the Majors in runs scored and actually scored 42 more total runs than the team that won the vision by 11 games over them in the Los Angeles Dodgers so a repeat performance or even an improvement isn’t out of the question. However they did suffer a big loss a couple of days ago, as JD Martinez signed a 5-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. Martinez hadn’t been in Arizona very long, as they acquired him at the Trade Deadline from the Detroit Tigers, but his tenure in Phoenix was nothing short of incredible. After his trade from Detroit, Martinez hit .302 with 29 home runs and 65 RBI in just 62 games, becoming the perfect complement to arguably the best first baseman in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt. However with Martinez’s departure, there is a bit of a dip in production at the cleanup spot. I’m expecting Jake Lamb to be the one to fill that void and while he’s a good power hitter (he hit 30 home runs and drove in 105 RBI last season) he’s not Martinez. In fact, Lamb only hit .248 last season. But there is one thing to get excited about with him: he appears to have gotten better each season. Not only has Lamb’s home run totals gone up in each of his 4 Major League seasons, but so has his walk rate, suggesting that he’s seeing the plate a lot better and maturing as a hitter. Plus he’s only 27 years old, which should have the Diamondbacks excited for his future prospects. AJ Pollock is another guy the Diamondbacks hope can get back on track as well at the top of their lineup. He was downright amazing in 2015 but a Spring Training shoulder injury in 2016 robbed him of that season and he looked like he was still recovering in 2017. If Pollock can return to his 2015 form where he hit .315 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 39 stolen bases, and a 6.5 WAR, then the Diamondbacks’ run totals should go through the roof. Also, as I mentioned at the opening, the Diamondbacks struck a trade to acquire Steven Souza Jr from the Rays while sending Brandon Drury to the Yankees. This leaves an interesting situation for the Diamondbacks with how they’re going to set their lineup because as it stands right now, Daniel Descalso is their starting second baseman and that’s not a good thing. Not a knock against Descalso, he’s a good utility player, but that’s where his true value lies, in being able to give rest to any player in the lineup due to his competence at a wide variety of positions. But it does fill the hole a bit more nicely in right field left by Martinez. Souza was hitting near the top of the Rays’ lineup for the last few years as he hit 30 home runs last season. Yasmany Tomas might be considered at second base but he’s never played there in the Major Leagues. Plus he’s 6’2 250 pounds and not exactly nimble, which makes him very out of place at second base. Granted, he can’t do much worse at second than he does at any of his other positions, such as third base and the corner outfield spots, as he is an atrocious defender. So I’m curious to see if the Diamondbacks decide to pull any more moves to try and find themselves a more established second baseman.
Perhaps the most critical factor to the Diamondbacks’ 2017 success, though, was their pitching. The team got a return to form from ace Zack Greinke as well as breakout seasons out of Robbie Ray and Zack Godley. After a disastrous first season in the desert in 2016, Greinke returned to his ace form in 2017, going 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 215 strikeouts. Ray was also excellent as he was able to drop his ERA from 2016-17 by 2 whole runs, going from 4.90 in ’16 to 2.89 in ’17. That’s basically going from not really deserving of a roster spot to ace level in one season, but it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Had I had a blog last season, I would’ve listed Ray as a potential breakout candidate for 2017 mainly because his 4.90 ERA may have been misleading. Ray’s FIP, which takes into account the defense behind the pitcher and gives what the pitcher’s ERA would’ve been with a neutral defense, was 3.76 in 2016, over a run lower than what his actual ERA was, meaning that a lot of the problems he had that year weren’t really his own but were a result of poor defense behind him. And just for the record, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Diamondbacks, but the pitcher who had the worst ERA despite a good FIP in 2017 was Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija, so keep an eye on him this season for the Robbie Ray effect. Godley was also a nice surprise for the Diamondbacks as he went 8-9 with a 3.37 ERA despite having an ERA of well over 6 the year prior. So if those three guys can keep up the improvements they made in 2017, the Diamondbacks will be in great shape.
The Diamondbacks bullpen also had one major breakout star in particular in Archie Bradley. Bradley had been one of their top starting pitching prospects but just didn’t seem to pan out in that role. After moving to the bullpen, however, Bradley seemed to find his groove like a lot of other failed starters tend to do of late (including Andrew Miller, Wade Davis, and Zach Britton to name a few). His fastball was touching triple digits and he was setting things up perfectly for closer Fernando Rodney, as he had an ERA of just 1.73 in 66 appearances last season. Rodney signed with the Twins in the offseason so that leaves the closer’s role wide open. The competition for the job is likely going to be Bradley against former Rays closer Brad Boxberger, who was newly signed in the offseason. Boxberger has an All Star appearance as a closer and is a legitimately good 9th inning option for the Diamondbacks but I think Bradley’s going to win out here, though even if he doesn’t I’m sure the DBacks will be perfectly happy with knowing the 8th inning is on lockdown for them.
Overall, I think the Diamondbacks should be really excited about their prospects for the 2018 season despite losing out on the JD Martinez sweepstakes. There’s a lot of talented hitters in their lineup and they boast a pitching staff that made huge strides last season. Whether they’re able to keep that up is another story, but it’s hard not to be excited if you’re NL Manager of the Year Torey Lovullo. Quite frankly I think the Diamondbacks would win any other division in the National League, however they’re stuck behind a Dodgers team that lost virtually nothing from the team that won 104 games last year and was one win away from a World Series title. They’re likely going to have to play for the Wild Card once again this season but I am confident in their ability to repeat as Wild Card winners.
Projected Finish: 91-71, First NL Wild Card Team
That’s going to do it for Day 2 of the 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. Join me tomorrow where I will be previewing the Atlanta Braves, who may not have much of a chance for competing in 2018 but have a lot to look forward within the next few years due to the plethora of young talent they boast. Let me know what you think of the Diamondbacks’ chances in 2018 in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.