Contributing Writer: (@SnakesofChase)
6 Things to Expect from the 2019 Diamondbacks, and 6 Things that Need to Happen for the Club to be Competitive
It is mid-February, and pitchers and catchers are starting to report for the beginning of the 2019 MLB season. It has been over four months now since the Diamondbacks have last taken the field, but most Arizona fans still have not gotten that sour taste out of their mouth. A year that was filled with so much optimism after the Snakes rattled off nine consecutive series wins to start the season quickly went south when they could only salvage eight total wins in May. The hot start allowed the D-backs to stay in contention for the majority of the season, but the monumental collapse in September left us all wondering: “What the hell happened?”
There are many justifiable places to point the blame for the 2018 disaster. Poor hitting, bad coaching, unreliable bullpen, inconsistent starting pitching, you name it. But at the end of the day, this team simply was never able to fire on all cylinders. When the bats were hot, the starters couldn’t make it through the 4th inning. When the starters were shoving, the bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. When the bullpen was nails, we couldn’t get a single batter on base. Diamondbacks fans were reminded throughout the season how excruciatingly streaky the game of baseball can be. And when it rains in the desert, it pours.
Of course, you can’t expect every single aspect of your baseball team to be red hot at all times, but what you can hope for is some consistency, and that is something the D-backs certainly lacked. It was almost like every month they were a completely different team, one month they looked poised to make a World Series run, and the next they looked like a Spring Training split-squad. With the exception of maybe David Peralta, there wasn’t a single player on the roster that didn’t go through some immense struggles at some point in the year.
However, it is finally time where we can put the 2018 struggles in the past, and we can begin to look forward to the 2019 season. When you look at the Diamondbacks on paper, you see an inconsistent team that lost their MVP in Paul Goldschmidt, debatably their Ace in Patrick Corbin, and their stud center-fielder in AJ Pollock. How can we possibly be good this year?
Look. I’m not writing this article to get your hopes up and tell you that Arizona is going to win it all this year. And with the strength of the NL West, you would probably stop reading this if I predicted a Division Title. But what I will tell you is that the idea of this team being competitive this year is …bear with me… NOT crazy at all. Here are some things I believe we can count on to get us on track to being competitive.
- Zack Greinke will have another strong year. Say what you want about the Greinke deal, but Zack has been great since coming to the desert, the past two years especially. Greinke put up nearly identical numbers in 2017 and 2018 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .230 BAA , and 200 strikeouts. With his arsenal of off-speed pitches (including that beautiful slow-curve) and his ability to locate them, I don’t think even another decrease in velocity will prevent him from holding down the top of the rotation in 2019.
- Robbie Ray will bounce-back. Although injuries plagued his 2018, we all saw his Cy Young potential the year before with his electric fastball and his dominant mound presence. If he can stay healthy, there are only a handful of lefties in the game with a higher ceiling.
- Zack Godley will be solid. I have Zack Godley penciled in as my #3 guy if I am Torey Lovullo. Godley had a very streaky 2018 but also showed flashes of brilliance. When he is on his game, he sometimes looks like the best pitcher on the staff. Even with a rough game now and then, he is still a solid middle of the rotation starter. And dammit, how can the crowd not get fired up when the bull sprints off the mound?
- David Peralta will be great. I have always touted David Peralta as the most under-rated player in all of baseball, but after last year I think he is finally starting to get the respect that he deserves. After batting .293 for a second consecutive year with 30 homeruns, The Freight Train chugged his way into MVP talks despite batting lead-off for a solid portion of the year with minimal RBI opportunities. I expect another monster year from Peralta, this time with over 100 RBIs now that his name will be written in ink in the 3-hole.
- Jake Lamb will bounce-back. Lamb was never the same in 2018 after his injury. As long as he can stay healthy, a resurgence to the Jake Lamb we saw in 2017 is more than possible. The real question mark for Jake has always been his ability to hit lefties, and we can only hope that the work he put in this off-season to improve in that field will be enough. If he is still unable to hit left handed pitching, Torey has some versatile infielders at his disposal to move around and get Lambo some rest. Regardless, I am predicting a .270+ year from Lamb with 25+ bombs.
- Steven Souza will be better. He can’t possibly be worse… right? 2018 was an absolute disaster for Souza, as he was plagued with injuries and only hit 5 homeruns. Looking at Souza’s past stats in previous years, it is safe to assume that 2018 was a throw away year and he will improve substantially…. I hope.
These are all relatively safe predictions that honestly should happen as long as the players can stay healthy. However, even if all of those things happen, there are still many players that need to step up in a big way in order for the Diamondbacks to compete for a playoff berth. With the new acquisitions to the club, there are a lot of question marks throughout the roster. In addition to the players that we can count on above, here is what needs to happen for Arizona to have a prayer at the playoffs:
- One of Merrill Kelly or Luke Weaver needs to pan out. If just one of these starters can be serviceable with a sub 4.3 ERA, the rotation will look very strong with Greinke, Ray, and Godley ahead of them. If both are good surprises, this rotation will look incredible. Even if one of them does not work out (which will more than likely happen) I like the depth we have in Matt Koch and Taijuan Walker, with Taylor Widener and Jon Duplantier close to MLB ready.
- The Beard needs to be feared again. Archie Bradley was a shell of himself in 2018, especially in the second half. It is absolutely crucial for Archie to return to his 2017 form and shoulder the load for this rather weak bullpen. If Archie can be a lock down part of the pen and we can use our other guys as a bridge to him, we will be okay. If not, we will be in for another rough ride.
- Greg Holland needs to be a factor. Holland has had a pretty remarkable career, but it has been a long time since he was the dominant force that he was closing games in Kansas City. Greg showed some flashes at a comeback when he was traded to the Nationals in the middle of 2018, posting a 0.84 ERA in 24 games with 25 strikeouts. However, he struggled immensely before that, so to bank on him being our closer would be a stretch. If he can just be a reliable middle innings reliever, the bullpen will be much better as long as Archie returns to form as well. It is unclear who will be the closer as of right now, but I think it is safe to say it will either be Holland or Archie.
- Nick Ahmed needs to learn how to hit. For years, I have said that if Nick Ahmed can somehow find a way to bat .265, he might be the best shortstop in the National League. Diamondback fans have been blessed to get to watch Nick Ahmed make dazzling plays in the field night in and night out for the last few years, but watching him hit is a nightmare. Ahmed is a career .229 hitter, and that needs to improve significantly if he is going to be our short stop moving forward. He showed off some pop last year with 16 homeruns to go along with his gold glove defense. All he needs to do is get that average above .260 and he will immediately become one of the best players on the team.
- We need production out of the catcher position. Alex Avila. Nothing else needs to be said for you to start having flashbacks of cursing at your TV and writing letters to Lovullo asking him why the hell he keeps putting the guy in the lineup. Obviously, the D-backs need more production from their catchers than last year. Whether that be Carson Kelly, Daulton Varsho, a comeback year from Alex Avila, or some combination of those, Arizona catchers need to be able to do more than strikeout (Avila) and bunt. (Mathis)
- Ketel Marte needs to be AT LEAST an average center-fielder. Diamondback fans have seen enough from Marte’s bat, the kid has shown some promise from both sides of the plate. However, with the gigantic void that AJ Pollock left in center field and the front office not signing a replacement, it appears that Mike Hazen is all-in on the athletic Marte to make the change to the outfield. Ketel has a ton of speed so I am not worried about him covering ground, but it is uncertain how good he is at judging fly balls and making reads off the bat. Marte in center is one of the most intriguing things to me going into this season. The organization has been absolutely blessed with great fielding center fielders over the years, from Steve Finley to Chris Young to AJ Pollock, maybe Marte will be the next?
Okay, fine. There are a ton of “ifs.” The D-backs will probably only have a few of the lines in bold actually happen, and with injuries they will probably finish in the 70 win range. But the point I am trying to make is that this team has a lot more going in the right direction than most people give them credit for. If you think that trading Paul Goldschmidt and losing Pollock and Corbin completely doomed the Diamondbacks, you’re wrong. We have seen this team go 20-8 while Paul was hitting .190. We have seen this team compete without an answer at center field on numerous occasions when Pollock gets hurt. We have seen this team make a playoff run when Patrick Corbin wasn’t even playing well enough to get a post-season start.
Mike Hazen was not looking to rebuild this off-season, he was looking to re-tool a pretty solid roster with young, MLB-ready players with several years of control. The team obviously lacks star power, but baseball is a weird game. If a few things go right for the Diamondbacks early in the year and the additions that we made prove to be worthy investments, we just might put ourselves into a position at the deadline for Mike Hazen to go get that star power that we lack. He showed us in 2017 what he is willing to do if we are in a position to make a run. At the end of the day, we have a capable group of young, intriguing players, and someone has to be the surprise team of 2019. Why not us?
My 2019 record prediction: 77-85
*IF* all 6 additional things happen + a trade deadline acquisition: 86-76
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