Posted on March 3, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
After finishing 82-80 and out of the playoff picture last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks appear headed toward a rebuilding year. However, while they may have lost some key pieces from last season, the Diamondbacks could have enough talent to make a surprising run in 2019. Will Arizona be one of the surprise teams in 2019 or will they struggle to stay above .500?
Arizona’s rotation was an asset last season, and the same could be true this season. Despite some effort to trade Zack Greinke during the winter, the 35-year old remains the team’s ace after winning 15 games and posting a 3.21 ERA last year. Despite Patrick Corbin signing elsewhere in free agency, the Diamondbacks still have Zack Godley and Robbie Ray in the rotation behind Greinke. Both are more than capable of serving as adequate no. 2 and no. 3 caliber starters. Even with Godley’s unimpressive 4.74 ERA last year, he still won 15 games. Ray, meanwhile, has had an ERA under 4.00 in three of the last four seasons.
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Of course, the question for Arizona’s rotation is what kind of depth they have behind those three pitchers. An offseason trade with St. Louis gave the D-Backs Luke Weaver. The former 1st round pick had a rough time last year but flashed plenty of potential in 2017, so he could end up being a pleasant surprise. Beyond that, it’s unclear who will make up Arizona’s rotation. Top prospects Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener may not be ready until the second half of the season. The same could be true of Tijuan Walker, who had Tommy John surgery last April. Unproven pitchers like Taylor Clarke and Merrill Kelly may be forced into action unless Arizona wants to take Matt Koch or Matt Andriese out of the bullpen.
Arizona’s bullpen was one of their biggest strengths last year. However, there are some questions to answer this season after the team parted ways with closer Brad Boxberger over the winter. Free agent signing Greg Holland may get a chance to earn the closer’s job. But he had a troublesome time in St. Louis last season before finishing the year strong with the Nationals, so it’s anybody’s guess how he performs this season. If Holland can’t solidify the closer’s job, Archie Bradley would appear to be next in line. Bradley has excelled in a bullpen role the past couple of seasons, but he has little experience as a closer.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have a number of intriguing setup men in their bullpen. Japanese native Yoshihisa Hirano posted a 2.44 ERA in his first big league season in 2018. Lefty Andrew Chafin should be another reliable pitcher to serve as a bridge to Bradley and Holland. T.J. McFarland could give Arizona another trustworthy lefty after pitching to a 2.00 ERA last year, although he doesn’t have a track record of sustained success. Jimmy Sherfy and Yoan Lopez also showed potential last season, although both are lacking major league experience. Of course, if Arizona’s rotation can stay healthy, Koch and Andriese will provide even more depth to the bullpen that has a chance to be better than average in 2019.
The Diamondbacks took a step back offensively in 2018, and things could get worse before they get better. The club traded perennial all-star Paul Goldschmidt and let center fielder A.J. Pollock go in free agency, so there are some big holes to fill in their lineup. David Peralta will be counted on to be the big bat in the middle of the order, although he won’t have Goldschmidt around to help him. The Diamondbacks will be desperate for Jake Lamb and Steve Souza to have bounce-back seasons. Both hit 30 home runs in 2017 but fell flat during the 2018 season.
Arizona will hope to get some help from Eduardo Escobar and Wilmer Flores. Escobar, who will be the primary third baseman, was acquired last summer from the Twins and is coming off a career year. Flores, who will man the keystone, rakes against lefties but has rarely held down an everyday job in the majors.
The Diamondbacks will also lean on Ketel Marte to make the move to center field and be a spark plug at the top of the order after veteran Jarrod Dyson had such a poor season in 2018. Unfortunately, Arizona can’t count on getting too much offense from Alex Avila behind the plate or shortstop Nick Ahmed, so the other six positions on the diamond will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
If Arizona’s pitching staff can stay healthy, they’ll have a chance to stay in contention for a wild-card spot the second half of the season. But there are serious questions about their lineup, especially with Goldschmidt and Pollock gone. Ultimately, the pitching staff can only carry them so far, and that’s if everything breaks favorably. Look for the Diamondbacks to finish 70-92 and take a considerable step backward in 2019.