Cleat Geeks

Snakes Alive! Five Reasons Why the Arizona Diamondbacks Will Win the NL West in 2016

Dbacks Snakehead Logo 4Following a season in which they lost a league-high 98 games, fired manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, were ravaged from top to bottom by injuries, had a bottom-five pitching staff (collective staff ERA was 4.26, second-worst in the NL and fifth-worst in all of baseball), and earned the #1 pick in the draft, the Diamondbacks were starting over in 2015. They hired Chip Hale to replace Gibson, former Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart to replace Towers, installed Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as their Chief Operating Officer, dumped veterans and bad contracts, and ushered in a youth movement and rebuilding process that appeared would take a few seasons to come together. The club was picked to finish last in the NL West again.

When the dust finally settled on the 2015 season, the Diamondbacks had been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball. They finished 79-83, winning 15 more games than the previous season, took third place in the NL West, and were over .500 and just five games out of first place in the West as late as August 2013. After receiving constant criticism for being one of the worst-run franchises in the league, they were suddenly getting a lot of credit for having one of the better cores around – both in the majors and the minors – and were a trendy pick to be a team to watch heading into 2016. I am here to give you five reasons why the Diamondbacks should not only be considered a contender for the playoffs this year, but should be viewed as the favorite in the NL West.

The first reason is the everyday lineup and offense. GoldyThe Diamondbacks finished 2015 eighth in baseball and second in the National League in runs scored, and had four regulars finish in the top ten in the NL in batting average. These numbers could take a hit in ’16 because of the departure of outfielder Ender Inciarte (more on that below), who thrived as a reliable top of the order bat in his first full season in the bigs (159 hits, .303 batting average), but they shouldn’t drop off too much due to the presence of center fielder A.J. Pollock (top ten in the NL in hits, batting average, OPS, runs scored, steals, WAR, and doubles) and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (33 HRs, 110 RBIs, 182 hits, one of just three NL hitters to draw 100 walks and one of just four guys in the NL with an OBP over .400). It goes without saying that both guys are among the ten or twenty best players in all of baseball, and it can be argued that – outside of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper – “Goldy” is the most feared hitter in the game (as evidenced by the fact that his overall walk total shattered the franchise record and there were periods when simply nobody wanted to pitch to him). “Goldy” has finished as the runner-up in the MVP voting in 2013 and 2015, and he probably would have gotten a lot of votes for the award in ’14 if a broken hand hadn’t ended his season in August.

A.J.Pollock2015 will go down as Pollock’s breakout season, but 2014 was well on the way to being that before a broken hand also derailed his season. Much like his teammate, Pollock was an All-Star in 2015 and – if not for Trout and possibly Andrew McCutchen – Pollock would be the best center fielder in baseball. Left fielder David Peralta – a former pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization who converted himself into a position player due to arm problems and shouler surgeries and was signed by the Diamondbacks out of independent leagues – has developed into a middle of the order threat (17 HRs, .317 batting average, hit .360 after the All-Star break), outfielder Yasmany Tomas (signed out of Cuba for $68 million) hit .313 in the first half, has shed pounds, and is beloved by the organization, catcher Welington Castillo hit 17 HRs in 80 games after coming over from the Mariners in the Mark Trumbo trade, third baseman Jake Lamb was the organization’s best hitting prospect when he was called up, but has yet to play a full season due to a stress fracture in his foot, and shortstop Nick Ahmed hit .296 against lefties and slowly improved as the season went on following a disastrous April (.140). Provided everyone stays healthy – and Pollock and Goldy in particular – this is a dangerous lineup.

ZackGreinkeDbacksThe second reason is the starting rotation. This has been the Achilles heel of the Diamondbacks for years. It improved last season (it almost had to), but was still just 23rd in the league. Zack Grienke, who was pried away from the rival Dodgers in the Diamondbacks most noteworthy deal since Randy Johnson, should make this one of the better rotations in the league by himself. All he did in 2015 was finish as the Cy Young runner-up, start the All-Star Game, and compile a 1.66 ERA. The Diamondbacks complemented Greinke by trading Inciarte for the Braves Shelby Miller. Most fans will write Miller off immediately because of his loss total (17), but he received no run support from an awful Braves offense. He had a 3.02 ERA, made the All-Star team, and nearly no-hit the Diamondbacks during an August series. Greinke and Miller are the 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation that Arizona has lacked since the days of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, or even Johnson and Curt Schilling. If Patrick Corbin (who missed all of 2014 and most of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery) can return to his 2013 form (when he was the staff ace, an All-Star, and had a 3.41 ERA with 14 wins) and Robbie Ray finds consistency (3.52 ERA in 2015, but struggles with command and doesn’t have a good third pitch yet), this is a strong and deep rotation.

Nick+AhmedReasons #3, 4 and #5 are the defense, management, and the farm system. This team is as strong as any up the middle with Ahmed, Chris Owings, and Pollock. Pollock won a Gold Glove last season, Ahmed made several highlight reel plays and can win multiple Gold Gloves if his bat catches up to his offense, and – to be honest – I think the only reason Owings played so much last season was because of his glove. Goldschmidt is also a Gold Glove winner at first base and Lamb is underrated at third. Peralta and Tomas are questionable defenders in the outfield, but Pollock is so good that he’ll make up for a lot of their deficiencies. You can’t go wrong with former Cardinals running your organization, so I don’t think I need to elaborate on the impact Stewart and La Russa have already made and will continue to make, and Hale gets the most out of his players. Although the team has traded away a lot of prospects in recent deals (the most notable being 2015 #1 pick Dansby Swanson in the Miller trade), outfielder Socrates Brito infielder Brandon Drury, and outfielder/catcher Peter O’Brien should make waves in the big leagues in 2016, Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley are the future of the pitching staff, and there are such infield prospects as Domingo Leyba and Jake Reinheimer.

None of this is to say that the Diamondbacks are without competition in their division. The Dodgers will be right there because of Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, and Kenta Maeda in their rotation and the Giants are a threat because they finished fifth in the NL in runs scored and added outfielder Denard Span and ace Jonny Cueto, but I believe the Diamondbacks are the team to beat in the West because they have the most complete roster and fewest question marks (the Dodgers bullpen isn’t good, their rotation has high injury risks like Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and their offense beyond Adrian Gonzalez isn’t intimidating, and the Giants have rotation issues after Cueto and Madison Bumgarner and Span has a hard time staying healthy). Expect the snakes to be alive and rule the NL West in 2016.

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