Call it the curse of .500. It is the rut all of my favorite sports teams have been in the last couple of seasons. The Dallas Cowboys have been stuck there for the last three years and the New York Yankees finished slightly above that number last year and will probably be at 81-81 this year. Then there are the Arizona Diamondbacks who have somehow managed to finish exactly at .500 the last two seasons, something that’s pretty hard for a baseball team to do. 2014 will be an improvement. I really wanted to give them 90 wins but with Patrick Corbin‘s injury, I can’t do it. Still, here are five reasons why I believe the D’backs should finish five games over .500.
The offense will be improved. Last year, the team finished fifth in the National League in runs scored with 685. However, they had issues driving in runners in scoring position with less than two outs and outside of Paul Goldschmidt, there wasn’t many moments of clutch hitting from the rest of the team. The acquisition of Mark Trumbo helps solidify left field, a problem spot in 2013. The name of the game will be consistency. Martin Prado was great in the second half and Aaron Hill produced when healthy. Prado will be more comfortable in his second season in Arizona and as long as Hill stays healthy, he will be among the top second basemen in baseball. Miguel Montero should bounce back from a rough season and when you add in Trumbo, this is a lineup that should score a little more but more importantly, avoid the wild swings that often plague a .500 ball club.
The bullpen can not be possibly that heart wrenching again. The 29 blown saves is about all you need to know about the state of the bullpen in 2013. That number can be a little bit deceptive because the D’backs did not lose all 29 games the ‘pen surrendered. Still, it led to a record number of extra inning games played which no doubt took a toll on the team. Gone is whipping boy Heath Bell, replaced by Addison Reed and his 69 saves the last two seasons. After a competition for the closer’s role with J.J. Putz, Reed will be the man in the ninth inning. Oliver Perez was signed during the middle of Spring Training as another lefty which means that Will Harris, one of the team’s better relievers last season, may be headed to Triple A Reno. Old reliable Brad Ziegler is back in his customary setup role while David Hernandez looks to rebound from a bad 2013. It’s a solid, if unspectacular group that shouldn’t have fans reaching for the aspirin as much in 2014.
There will be improvement by Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy. Someone will have to step into the void left by Corbin, who was Arizona’s best starter a year ago. That could be Miley who has won 26 games in his first two full Major League seasons. He won only 10 of them last year but pitched to a respectable 3.55 ERA and always seemed to keep his team in every game even if his best stuff wasn’t there. Miley pitched 202 2/3 innings last year and should approach the 220 mark in 2014. As far McCarthy goes, it’s now or never for him. He has always had a world of potential but his health has always been an issue. McCarthy has never pitched in more than 25 games, never thrown past 170 innings and has never hit double digit wins. At age 30 and entering the final year of his contract, the tall righty is primed to exceed all of those numbers in 2014. He was lights-out in Spring Training and gets the ball for the Snakes’ home opener on Monday.
There is pitching depth in the farm system ready to make an impact. Should any member of the pitching staff struggle or get injured, particularly in in the second half, the D’backs have the arms in the farm system that can make a contribution immediately. Top prospect Archie Bradley was just sent to Reno but if he can show that his command issues are a thing of the past, he can be in Arizona by the middle of May. Should Bo Schultz also get sent down before the season starts, the team has enough confidence in him to make some starts later in the season. In the bullpen, hard-throwing Jake Barrett could be called up in the second half while the same can be said for Matt Stites, acquired in the Ian Kennedy deal. Evan Marshall is another name to watch as he threw four scoreless innings in Spring Training before being reassigned.
The defense will once again be strong. Even if Chris Owings wins the shortstop battle, defense will remain a strength for the D’backs. They committed the fewest number of errors in baseball in 2013 and there is no reason to expect a significant increase in that category in 2014. Trumbo will be a liability in left early in the season but can be compensated for by A.J. Pollock in center and Gerardo Parra in right. Cody Ross is underrated in the field and when he plays in place of Trumbo, the defense in the outfield will save a lot of runs. In the infield, Goldy is coming off his first Gold Glove and Prado is steady at third. Hill plays a solid second and if Didi Gregorius is the starter at short, the infield defense will be outstanding.
Hopefully, the reasons I just gave are good enough to at least get the D’backs to an 86-76 record. Then, maybe we can really be lucky and have the team get to 90 wins. That might be pushing it.