Hold this picture in your mind: It’s July 2014, and the Diamondbacks are lagging behind the Dodgers in the National League West as Mark Trumbo’s .245/.321/.464 slash line is being battered in talk radio while Tyler Skaggs — the man traded to the Angels for Trumbo last December — taps into his potential and emerges as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate.
But wait, there’s more:
- Starting pitcher Archie Bradley offers up extended batting practice for NL West hitters before being sent down.
- No one steps up as a leadoff hitter, which makes Paul Goldschmidt a poor man’s Barry Bonds as pitchers avoid him with a comfortable ease that transforms Goldschmidt into a solo-homer maven.
- The loss of starter Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery only amplifies just how tedious this Diamondbacks team is.
Now back to the present day. For as much as it’s easy to hope the opposite — that the D-backs stay in the playoff hunt well into September — too many things have to go right for that to happen. One stands a better chance of a celebrity saying “yes” to a date request on Twitter than for Arizona to remain relevant until college football begins.
The pride of Texas State, Goldschmidt is one of the most feared hitters in the game. The power is legit, and the stolen bases make him a fantasy darling. Having hit 36 of the team’s 130 home runs last season (27.6 percent), the Diamondbacks added Trumbo to enhance the thunder (while also hoping the former first baseman/DH doesn’t look like the stiff he has in left field thus far). You gotta give a little to get a little, which meant getting Trumbo cost them Skaggs, a power lefty arm who has shown signs of “I’ll make your asses regret trading me” results this spring.
As for the rest of the lineup? Uh … um … well ….
Right fielder Gerardo Parra has a howitzer for an arm (17 assists), which offsets the fact he’s just a hair above league average as a hitter. Like every team before, the Diamondbacks have placed outfielder Cody Ross on the DL, which means another season of them hoping Ross can avoid playing the gimp role for at least 60-70 games. Good luck with that.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius has a name more apt for a jobber back in the old WWF Superstars days. While his glove screams spectacular, his bat is more a tribute to slappy 1980s middle infielders. Kids, that’s not good. Oh, yeah: here’s hoping catcher Miguel Montero’s 0.9 WARP (-3.7 from 2012) was just an off year rather than more money blowing away in the desert.
So, at which point does one break and run in fear of the Diamondbacks’ rotation? The Disney Channel’s nightly lineup is more intimidating than what manager Kirk Gibson will pencil in the nine-spot on a daily basis.
Corbin was the closest thing to an ace in the rotation, which tells you all you need to know about how mediocre this staff is. Without him, the hope falls on Bradley, who does things (like strike out batters frequently) that his other staff mates can’t. Bradley has the stuff to be a hammer in the rotation, but asking him to duplicate what Jose Fernandez did with the Marlins last season is asking close to a miracle.
That said, the D-backs — in a pitching-heavy division — will go with Wade Miley, veteran Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy along with Bradley. If there is anything working in the rotation’s favor, it’s that Arizona has perhaps the best defense in the game; that alone should be enough to sneak three to five wins.
Closer Addison Reed, also part of the three-way deal that brought Trumbo to the Diamondbacks, gives the club its ninth-inning dagger, one that has a fastball complemented by a slider and change-up that adds to his ability to end games. Veteran Brad Ziegler is a ground-ball-producing machine who should take the role of setup man. David Hernandez, J.J. Putz and Joe Thatcher provide three more experienced arms that add depth.
Opening day lineup
1. A.J. Pollock, CF
2. Gerardo Parra, RF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Mark Trumbo, LF
5. Aaron Hill, 2B
6. Martin Prado, 3B
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS
Shortstop Chris Owings won the Pacific Coast League MVP award last season and is still in the hunt for an opening day spot. He provides more offense than Gregorius and could translate into a 15-15 player down the immediate road. At the very least, he could stick on the roster as a utility man who can also play second and some outfield.
Right-hander Braden Shipley, the team’s first-round choice last year, will open in the offensive-friendly California League, where the franchise will get a first look at how soon his fastball/curve combination reaches the majors. Outfielder Justin Williams has great upside, yet last year’s second-round selection is pretty damn raw.
The Dodgers are the team to beat, the Giants and Padres are intriguing, and the Rockies are infinitely unpredictable. Where does that leave the Diamondbacks in the NL West scheme of things? If everything bounces right, they’re a third-place team, yet if the above scenario plays out, Arizona will be closer to 90 losses than 80 wins.