Arizona Diamondbacks; 2023 season preview

PHOENIX – Perhaps the hopes might be exaggerated but the belief seems omnipresent. Despite four consecutive losing seasons, the torch of the Arizona Diamondbacks, this time, seems to burn bright. Whether this outlook is justified remains in the hands of the players.

To that point, manager Torey Lovullo believes for his team to reach a competitive stage, “execution,” as he pointed out during spring training, represents the key indicator.

A year ago, the Diamondbacks, players, and officials, believed the club left at least 20 games on the table. Winnable, those losses were compounded by a lack of run production in critical games and a bullpen that appeared to implode nearly every night.

When the season concluded, the off-season goal was to try and recover those losses, and should fortunes turn around in 2023, the result would give Arizona leverage in a highly competitive National League West division.

In 2022, Arizona finished with a record of 74-88 and 37 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Though that represented a 22-game increase in the win column. A feeling persists that should Arizona gain those 20 games, that would produce a season of about 94 victories. This would be more than enough to knock on the post-season door and a vision, participants believe, is within reach.

“We have standards and what we expect out of ourselves,” said first baseman Christian Walker, who led the club with 36 home runs, drove in 94 runs, and earned a Gold Glove a year ago. “As far as expectations go, I’m trying to play the game with no expectations. I will encourage guys this season to have no expectations and focus on the moment and focus on each other. With the dynamic of this team, it’s those little things that will pull us through. I think we can surprise many people. That being said, our division is really tough. You’re not playing for the Cinderella story. In the same sense, we have a certain standard we plan on throwing out every night.”

For this part, Lovullo said he sensed change and a direction filled with promise and potential.

“I want the rest of the baseball world to know we’re a really good team that doesn’t back down,” Lovullo said. “We expect a challenge each and every single day. I don’t know if I could have said that a few years ago. We were still very young and naïve in certain areas. This team is totally different. This team is ready to step on it and get after it.”

Coming into the season, there appear to be a number of areas that continue to be fluid.

Consider – The starting rotation

During the final days of spring training, Lovullo named righty Ryne Nelson as the fifth starter in the rotation. He joins Zac Gallen, named opening day starter, Merrill Kelly, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Davies as the five to open the season.

Assuming Gallen and Kelly continue to execute at a high level, the rest of the rotation could be marginal.

This spring, Bumgarner relied less on power and more on craft and finesse. Against Cleveland on March 27, and his final start of the spring, Bumgarner threw 77 pitches in five innings and admitted to going to off-speed deliveries on a more frequent basis. What was important in this outing, and throughout his spring starts, was Bumgarner’s cultivation and location of secondary pitches. In order to stay both relevant and productive, Bumgarner seems to have reinvented himself and made an effort to remain a productive major league pitcher.

Should he falter and prompt concern from the organization to consider a move or trade, that could elevate Drey Jamison, now in the Arizona bullpen, or Brandan Pfaadt at AAA Reno, into the rotation.

Another consideration could be Davies, who went 2-5 and had a 4.09 ERA last season. The issue with Davies is innings. In 2022, he started 27 games and pitched 134 innings. That’s less than five innings per start and should Davies stumble as well, Lovullo could be tempted to make a rotation change.

The bullpen improved with several power arms, and Lovullo starts the season without a defined closer. During spring training, he indicated situations will dictate how pitchers are used, and should a critical situation develop in the middle innings, Lovullo said he would consider his best option at a given moment.

Consider – The Batting Order

The only constant is Christian Walker hitting in the clean-up slot. Otherwise, Lovullo said he will construct his daily lineup based on the opposition pitcher and how he can maximize personnel for the greater good.

Third baseman Josh Rojas, Lovullo indicated, will hit at the top of the lineup, but the rest of the order appears in constant motion.

Centerfielder Alek Thomas, who hit ninth for Team Mexico in the recent World Baseball Classic, will likely hit low in Lovullo’s lineup. That way, the manager pointed out, Thomas’ speed, base-running ability, and his penchant to manufacture ways of getting on base, will be fully utilized.

Consider – Team character

Lovullo promises his team will be aggressive and respond to challenges. The style of this team will likely build upon the new rules.

With pitchers now limited to throwing to first base only two twice per at-bat, the dimension of speed especially from Jake McCarthy and Corbin Carroll should be evident. The Diamondbacks are expected to take the extra base and pressure opponents into critical mistakes at critical points in a game.

“You will see a team that does not back down from anyone,” Lovullo promised. “That’s one of my demands.”

On the calendar, the Diamondbacks open the season on the road with four games against the Dodgers and two against the Padres. Then, Arizona opens its home schedule with four against the Dodgers.

Given the highly competitive nature of the NL West, the team’s personality and ability to confront challenges could be apparent within the early days of the season.

“We will find out where we are against two of the best,” Lovullo said. “The Dodgers and Padres are who they are, and they deserve that attention. We’re looking forward to playing them and we will see where we are very quickly.”

Consider – In the mix

The speed employed by Carroll, McCarthy, and Thomas will challenge opponents … Ketel Marte came to camp stronger and slimmer. He was visibly frustrated by injuries and lack of production over the past seasons. … The goal of acquiring right-handed power in the off-season was realized. Kyle Lewis, the AL rookie-of-the-year in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, had a great camp and beat out Pavin Smith and Emmanuel Rivera (the two latter sent to the minors) for a roster spot. Also, the power bat of Lourdes Gurriel will likely be a welcome addition.

Conclusion –

The Diamondbacks should be an exciting team to watch. Already, they have gathered national attention. As with any team, pitching and defense will carry this team.

At this point, the rotation could be in flux and fundamentally altered by the All-Star game, or before.

The main question on the radar screen, will the Diamondbacks find those 20 games lost from last season? The answer is highly unlikely. The starting rotation is too unpredictable and too uncertain, and the bullpen needs to shut down opponents on a regular basis.

The 2023 season prediction –

Arizona will pick up seven victories lost from last season and finish with an even .500 at 81-81. Team officials will recognize the trajectory and offer Lovullo a one-year contract to manage the 2024 Diamondbacks.

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