Arizona Diamondbacks: Season preview with lingerling questions

Mar 14, 2017; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Brandon Drury (27) hits a single in the first inning against the Texas Rangers during a spring training game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2017; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Brandon Drury (27) hits a single in the first inning against the Texas Rangers during a spring training game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

A fast start against division opponents in April would boost the confidence level of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Around Opening Day, the usual excitement prevails. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Sunday opener against the San Francisco Giants at home heralds in the Torey Lovullo Era and with this, a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm.

Each of the 30 major-league teams can take solace from the title of that 1949 Ray Milland film, It Happens Every Spring, and that would be the universal sense of hope. The Arizona Diamondbacks are no different in their high energy, but also, at the same time, tempered by an over-enthusiasm exhibited at this time last year.

That’s when the club went aggressively into the free agent market and signed Zack Greinke, considered the jewel of the class. Add right-hander Shelby Miller to Greinke’s side, and the Diamondbacks instantly thought they possessed the most dynamic one-two punch among major-league starters. That temperament quelled when Greinke finished six games over .500 (at 13-7), and Miller spent a large part of his summer banished to the minors.

Now, a new mindset was detected in the Diamondbacks clubhouse and one hardened by the false sense of assurance. In this vein, pitcher Archie Bradley told Venom Strikes during spring training that the hype essentially centered around Miller and Greinke was self-generated.

"Looking back on the situation now, we were out of control. The whole thing was outrageous and now we know better. The clubhouse now is more professional and business-like. We will not tell the things we told the media last year because we all bought into that."

There are parts to the Diamondbacks team which are intriguing and some puzzling. Overall, this club has the potential to score a ton of runs and also allow a plethora of runs. Apparently, Lovullo wants to avoid the 12-10 games whether he is on the winning or losing side.

Among the positive, Lovullo can send out five hitters at the top of his lineup that could be the among the best five of any line-up. In A. J. Pollock leading off and followed by David Peralta in the two-hole, Paul Goldschmidt hitting third, Jake Lamb in the clean-up spot and Yasmany Tomas in the five hole, that contingent has the capability to bring nightmares to opposing pitchers.

When the season begins, Tomas will hit behind Lamb with Brandon Drury likely sixth. It’s the bottom part of the line-up which could be weak.

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Here, Lovullo told Venom Strikes he plans to share the shortstop position with Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings. The two represents a 33-point differential in career batting average and if Ahmed plays (career .221 average), the offense will suffer.

Ditto could be said for left-fielder Tomas. Coming off a 31 home runs season with 83 RBIs, Tomas suffered an oblique strain in camp and went 1-for-21 in games through March 29.

Plus, he considered a defensive liability in left field and marginal speed on the bases. Tomas’ durability and production are now under the microscope.

From a pitching standpoint, the rotation appears set with Greinke starting the season, and followed by Patrick Corbin, Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Shelby Miler. Veterans populate the bullpen. led by Tom Wilhelmsen and J. J. Hoover and Fernando Rodney, at 40-years-old, was signed as the closer. For the Diamondbacks to remain competitive in the NL West division race, the closer should save games in the mid-40s. If Rodney, at his advanced age, can accomplish that feat, Lovullo told Venom Strikes, “we’ll have a pretty good year.”

Lovullo’s defense should be creative and energetic. That’s because the manager plans to employ various shifts primarily against left-handed hitters. In spring training games, Lovullo shifted repeatedly and often positioned players in the right spot to record an out. There is every reason to believe Lovullo will be more aggressive when placing his players around the diamond during the regular season.

What will happen

Most pundits hold that Greinke, Goldschmidt, and Pollock represent the core of this team, and how these players perform will dictate fortunes.

Perhaps, but there are other considerations.

First, Drury switched from his natural third base position to second, will have a break-out season. Drury could be in line for a 25-30 home run season, drive in over 80 runs and hit between .280 and .300.

Also, watch for Chris Herrmann to make a significant contribution. A valuable left-handed bat, Herrmann will surprise with clutch hits and possibly a walk-off or two.

Plus, lefthander Patrick Corbin will have a turnover season. Last year, Corbin imploded after a stellar spring and eventually banished to the bullpen. He arrived in camp ready to correct mistakes from last season and will win around 15 games in 2017.

Next: Miller ready to rebound

This team will surprise and reach close to .500. The view from here is an 80-82 season and competitive with the Colorado Rockies for third place in the National League West Division.