MLB: Why Arizona Diamondbacks Will Be Team to Beat in NL West
Don’t sleep on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
They underachieved last season with a .500 record (81-81), but have since restructured most of their roster.
The D-backs traded two-thirds of their outfield, including the face of the franchise, Justin Upton, yet they may just have a better team.
Adding depth and building around defense, Arizona has filled all its needs in this busy offseason.
The focus this offseason was on “Gibby Ball,” signing grinders and scrappy players to accommodate the style of manager Kirk Gibson (via Bob McManaman of The Arizona Republic). Gibson told McManaman,
We want to be gritty, we want to be a team that pressures our opponent. We want to be relentless, highly dedicated, determined and undeterred in our goals.
With the roster this team has assembled, the D-backs are lined up for a winning season, and no one should be surprised to see them come out on top of the NL West.
GM Kevin Towers has developed a team displaying several keys to a successful season. Let's take a look at them.
If there's one thing about the 2013 Diamondbacks, they're deep.
They have plenty of options in the outfield, some quality bench infielders and a ton of pitching. In case of injury, there are guys more than capable of filling the void.
With a slated starting outfield of Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross, the D-backs have A.J. Pollock, Gerardo Parra and recently acquired Tony Campana to back them up.
Newly signed Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske provide stability at corner infield, with John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist ready for their numbers to be called as well.
Adding Heath Bell and Tony Sipp bolsters a strong bullpen and bringing in Brandon McCarthy upgrades the rotation.
To have success, teams need depth. There are a number of options for Kirk Gibson on any given night.
Catcher Miguel Montero told Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic,
I’m happy with the club we have now. We have a lot more speed, a lot more contact hitters and a good defense. We’ve got really good pitching. We’ve got a lot of gamers and a lot of experience.
These options give the Diamondbacks an ability to try different lineups, which in turn, makes them more dangerous than their counterparts.
Credit GM Kevin Towers on a job well done. After a sub-par 2012, he made some quality adjustments to improve the roster.
One of the more underrated free agent signings was Brandon McCarthy. He has a career 4.02 ERA, turning in his best season in 2011 when he started 25 games with a 1.13 WHIP and 2.9 WAR. That earned him the Opening Day nod in 2012.
Here, he'll be the number four, behind Opening Day starter Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and 2012 Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley. It should work to his advantage not having to man the rotation.
Kennedy is the fourth player in franchise history to have back-to-back 15-win seasons.
Cahill is coming off a 13-win season, and has lost 10 to 15 pounds and feels more athletic because of it, according to Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com.
Miley seemingly came out of nowhere to win 16 games last year with a 3.33 ERA in 194.2 innings. The D-backs will be relying on him to put up similar numbers this year. Gibson spoke to Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com regarding Miley.
It's just about consistency. He needs to come out and trust his stuff, trust his catcher, just continue to get better in all aspects of the game.
A fifth starter is likely to be either Randall Delgado (acquired in the Upton trade), Tyler Skaggs or Patrick Corbin. Each is trying to prove themselves this spring.
Regardless of who the D-backs go with, this rotation is very deep and can easily match up with the Dodgers and Giants.
Not only is their rotation upgraded, but their bullpen is as well.
Heath Bell comes over looking to rejuvenate his career back in the NL West. He had a disappointing season in Miami last year, but is a proven closer and has saved more than 40 games three times with the San Diego Padres.
He'll be in an eighth-inning role, setting up J.J. Putz this year. The nice thing about that is Gibson can flip-flop and go with either arm in closing situations.
Pitching is vital, and Arizona has the pieces to keep up with the competition in the NL West.
The most important player on the roster is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. In his first full season with the club, Goldschmidt hit .286 with 20 homers and 82 RBI. He also stole 18 bases.
Goldschmidt has the pop in his bat and the Diamondbacks should see him improve from last season. The 25-year-old is projected by Bill James to hit 27 homers and drive in 109 runs.
Left fielder Jason Kubel smashed 30 long balls last year and drove in 90 runs. Like most power hitters, Kubel has seen a rise in strikeout percentage, striking out a career worst 26 percent of his at-bats in 2012.
Between the two, we'll see plenty of long balls which will give the team a spark.
They will be the main source of power in a lineup primarily of contact and speed players who have the ability to reach base. This gives them a unique variety and multiple ways to score runs.
There is a mix of veterans and up-and-comers. Guys who have won before and guys who want to experience winning.
Another example of "Gibby Ball" and the direction the D-backs are headed, Gibson and Towers have fielded a roster with rookie Adam Eaton and 15-year vet Eric Chavez.
Chavez will have a part-time role, adding depth to this team. He has 248 career homers under his belt.
Right fielder Cody Ross is a veteran player who brings leadership and experience. He was part of the 2010 Giants team that won the World Series and NLCS MVP that same year. He knows how to win.
Martin Prado is a player who's been a very consistent hitter throughout his career. Not known for power, Prado hit a career high 42 doubles and drove in a career high 70 runs. He stole 17 bases last year and is a versatile asset to the Diamondbacks.
There isn't a superstar; just a bunch of players who don't mind flying under the radar. Playing for a manager like Gibson, there will be no lack of hustle.
They'll steal, hit and run, bunt and play situational small ball to get runners home. As I mentioned, with Goldschmidt and Kubel, they have some power threats too.
Towers told Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com,
I think we've got a little bit more of a speed dynamic this year, I think we still have power. I think we have a shut-down, lock-down bullpen.
People aren't going to be picking us, and that's fine. I would much rather lay under the radar and come up and sneak up an beat people. We accept the challenge, we embrace the challenge.
With a group of solidified major leaguers, it should help the younger players get more comfortable in the lineup.
There's no bigger key to winning than team chemistry.
Because this is a team with no superstar and no big egos, we've been hearing a lot of "us" and "we." This season, everyone is going to have to play together if they're going to be successful.
They're headed in the right direction and starting to become familiar with each other.
Cody Ross commented on the team chemistry as spring training got under way, via Richard Justice of MLB.com:
Obviously, we all have talent to play at this level, but playing smart and playing the game the right way sometimes is overlooked. I think that's what you're going to get out of our team. I'm absolutely excited about it. The chemistry is already good.
With players who are willing to put the team first and play hard-nosed baseball, if they can put it all together for a full season, we'll see the Diamondbacks come out on top of this division.
The talent is there. The depth is there and, seemingly, the chemistry is there.
With so many new faces, there will be many challenges throughout the season. In 2011, the team had a league high 48 come from behind victories. There was no quit in that team.
Last season, the same fight wasn't there. Developing chemistry at such an early stage is a formula for success. Gibson took a year of .500 ball personally. Don't expect his team to falter this year.
Playing the game the right way is a common theme in the clubhouse.
From Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com, shortstop Willie Bloomquist remarked,
I think chemistry and team camaraderie and clubhouse chemistry is a huge thing, and with the guys that we have this year that we brought in, we have great clubhouse guys and guys that love to play the game and love to play it the right way.
With this blueprint, the D-backs have put themselves in great position to dethrone the Giants. This is a complete team and Arizona fans are in for an exciting year.