How The Arizona Diamondbacks Win The NL West
The Arizona Diamondbacks have resisted the “rebuild” label all winter, and if you squint hard enough, there’s actually a chance they win the NL West.
Let’s call an egg an egg: the Arizona Diamondbacks are a team in transition.
There are many Dbacks fans, myself included, who think a total rebuild will help the organization in the long-term. But there’s also many who find it distasteful to throw in the towel before the season has begun. To their point, the season is long, and it’s a shame to see so many teams written off before pitchers and catchers have even reported to spring camp.
Lest we forget, injuries befall teams all the time, so if a pandemic of, let’s say, sudden blindness were to rip through the Dodgers’ and Rockies’ clubhouses, it would be a shame if the Dbacks weren’t ready to pounce. They came closer than anyone expected each of these last two seasons, and the Dodgers won’t win the West forever.
The core of those competitive Diamondbacks clubs just walked out the door, not to return, but vestiges of a competitive roster are there. As Darth Vader once rebuilt the Empire from the space debris of the death star, so too could Hazen retreat, regroup, and “strike back,” as it were, sooner than most of us living in this galaxy believe possible.
The Arizona Diamondbacks will win the division because…
Even without Corbin the rotation looks good. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray aren’t the top tandem in the league, but Steamer projects 2019 fWAR totals of 3.3 fWAR and 3.2 fWAR, respectively, which would have outpaced three of the five pitching tandems in last year’s NL playoffs. I am absolutely cherrypicking statistics here, but I maintain that Greinke/Ray are capable of fronting a playoff rotation.
Behind those two, Zack Godley can build on his strong 2018 campaign. He posted 15 wins and a 4.74 ERA across 178 1/3 innings, but peripheral metrics are more bullish: 3.98 xFIP, 9.34 K/9 and a 3.24 BABIP that will hopefully fall closer to league average or lower in 2019.
The back end of the rotation contains equal parts uncertainty and upside. Newcomer Luke Weaver is approaching the crest of his physical prime, and if his physical development coincides with the mental development that forms, according to baseball folklorists, only after a full season of ML experience, Weaver could cement himself as a mid-rotation starter or higher (though neither Steamer nor baseball-reference’s projections thinks so).
In the five spot, Merrill Kelly is already this seasons’ Miles Mikolas, per the narrative, but even if the sequel fails to live up to the original from a production standpoint, Kelly doesn’t need to throw 200 innings of 2.83 ERA baseball to earn his keep in the desert. Besides, should any of the above backslide in the first half, Taijuan Walker will be ready to play the role of cavalry when he returns from injury.
Here’s another wildly optimistic thought: after three seasons of the Aaron Rodgers treatment behind Yadier Molina, Carson Kelly could be ready to put down the clipboard and quarterback this pitching staff. While the humidor keeps humming, Kelly’s leadership and youthful spirit is just the ticket this pitching staff needs to improve upon its 3.74 team ERA from a year ago (good for fourth in the National League).
Offensively, the upside is harder to find, but let’s say this happens: Jake Lamb bounces back with a 35-homer season at first base, the up-the-middle defense from Kelly, Nick Ahmed, and centerfielder X makes up for lackluster offense, Ketel Marte contends for the batting crown and the combination of David Peralta & Steven Souza Jr. stay healthy enough to go yard 70 times and produce a combined 7+ fWAR.
Combine that with the surprising growth from the pitching staff and the unfortunate cases of “team polio” suffered by the Dodgers/Padres/Rockies, and there you have the 2019 NL West champion Diamondbacks. Dare to dream.