Going 93-69 after finishing 69-93 in 2016, the Arizona Diamondbacks made it to the postseason for the first time since 2011, defeating the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card round. They went on to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Divisional Series, but got swept. Here are five things that need to happen for the D-backs to return to the playoffs.
1) Strong Starting Pitching
Last season, the Diamondbacks pitching staff ranked third in Major League Baseball, posting a 3.38 earned run average, ERA. The starting pitching staff of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin, and Zack Godley will need to be just as effective as they were last season, which helped the D-backs make the playoffs. The starting rotation should get more depth when Shelby Miller returns from Tommy John surgery in the summer. For Arizona to win the NL West and make a deep run, the starting pitching staff will need to be elite in 2018.
2) A Formidable Bullpen
The bullpen was a very strong spot for the Arizona in 2017 with Archie Bradley, Andre Chafin, Randall Delgado, T.J McFarland, and Fernando Rodney in the back of the bullpen. Rodney left as a free agent to Minnesota as he left a hole in the closer’s role. The D-backs made a trade for former all-star Brad Boxberger from Tampa Bay who has 44 career saves, including a career-high 41 saves in 2015. The team also brought in Yoshihisa “Yoshi” Hirano during the offseason. Yoshi spent the last 11 seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League. During those seasons with the Buffaloes, he compiled 156 saves. Bradley, Boxberger, and Hirano could all be in a race for that closing spot.
3) Hot Bats
After losing J.D. Martinez in free agency to the Red Sox, Arizona’s offense still can put up enough numbers and produce to contend. Anytime you’ve got Paul Goldschmidt in your lineup, you should be able to put up runs. Goldy is coming off another MVP caliber season with a .297 average, 36 home runs, and 120 runs batted in, RBIs. Jake Lamb hit .248 with 30 home runs and drove in 105 runs. AJ Pollock also had a stellar year as he hit .315 with 20 homers and 76 runs batted in. He was even named an All-Star. David Peralta will be the lead man as he will be key in recovering from the loss of Martinez.
Jarrod Dyson signed with the Diamondbacks on a two-year deal. The speedy outfielder can play any of the three sports, which will give manager Torey Lovullo flexibility when putting the lineup together. Steven Souza Jr. came over from the Tampa Bay Rays in three-way trade between the Diamondbacks, Rays, and Yankees. Souza was the centerpiece in the deal as Arizona was looking to help replace the power they lost with Martinez leaving in free agency. He hit 30 homers last season with 78 RBIs while batting .239. He also stole 16 bases and the biggest upside that Souza brings is on defense. On paper, the offense seems to be formidable.
4) Start Fast
Starting fast is a very important key to a successful season. The Diamondbacks ended the first half of the season 53-36, a franchise best. They ended up finishing the second half of the season 40-33 including a team record 13-game winning streak en route to their second best win total in Diamondbacks’ history. Due to the fast start the D-backs had, they were able to make into the postseason for the first time since 2011.
5) Build Off 2017 Success
Even with the loss of Martinez, the offense can still put up the numbers to compete and the pitching staff, from top-to-bottom, is still a very strong group. The farm system has a lot of great young players as well as Jon Duplantier, right-handed pitcher, had a 1.39 ERA, 165 strikeouts, and only 42 walks in 136 innings between Low-A and High-A ball. Pavin Smith, 2017 first round pick, hit .318 during his first year of professional baseball in the Northwest League. Jimmie Sherfy is another solid young pitcher. The D-backs have to hope their young players and additions will help mold a winning culture in the desert.
The 2018 season gets under way on Thursday as Arizona will face the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field. It should be a successful season if they continue to build off the strong foundation they currently have in place.