3 BIG questions for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014

PHOENIX - Thanks to back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their season-opening series in Australia, the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves in the unfortunate position of trailing every other Major League Baseball team as the official Opening Day arrives.

Of course, there’s still plenty of time to make up ground; 160 games remain as the D-Backs open the stateside portion of their schedule by hosting the San Francisco Giants at Chase Field today at 6:40 pm.

Will the Diamondbacks contend for the National League West pennant and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011? Here are three questions as the 2014 MLB season gets underway:

1. Is there an ace in the house? Last season’s most effective D-Backs’ starting pitcher, Patrick Corbin, is set to miss the entire 2014 season following Tommy John surgery. (Not that Corbin was outstanding throughout 2013; he had a 2.35 ERA before the All-Star break compared to 5.19 thereafter.)

In Corbin’s absence, does Arizona have a go-to starter? Wade Miley (3.55 ERA in 2013) can be effective, but he tends to be streaky. Expensive free-agent acquisition Bronson Arroyo (3.79 ERA) had his best season as a starter eight years ago. Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill are coming off injury-riddled years.

The D-Backs have plenty of OK options, but no one who seems likely to make this year’s All-Star team. If they’re going to make a run at the NL West title, one of their veteran starters may have to have a career season, and a young pitcher – perhaps one opening the year in the minors – will likely have to step up, as well.

2. Will Addison achieve? Toward the end of spring training, manager Kirk Gibson announced that former Chicago White Sox pitcher Addison Reed will begin the season as the D-Backs’ closer. The team desperately needs some stability at that position following a 2013 campaign in which a combination of J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, David Hernandez and others blew a National League-leading 29 saves.

Bell has since been traded, Hernandez may miss the 2014 season with a torn UCL, and Putz has been relegated to set-up duty. That leaves Reed, who saved 40 games in Chicago last year, but also blew eight saves while posting a 3.79 ERA that, for a closer’s standards, leaves something to be desired.

Fortunately, Reed is only 25 years old and should continue to improve. Can he become the reliable ninth-inning guy the D-Backs demand?

3. Will Trumbo triumph? Arizona’s biggest offseason move in the batting department was via a three-way trade that brought former Angels’ slugger Mark Trumbo to the Valley.

Trumbo’s 2013 stats are nice to look at, provided that you only view his power numbers (34 home runs, 100 RBIs) and stay away from his strikeouts (184), batting average (.234) and on-base percentage (.294).

In order to be a winning deal for the D-Backs, which traded young starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs as part of the deal, Trumbo will probably have to generate numbers closer to his 2012 season in which he hit .268 and had a .317 OBP. Can he get back there following his transition to the National League?

Season prediction: The Diamondbacks’ 0-2 opening to the regular season is not a big deal – but injuries to Corbin and Hernandez have certainly put a damper on expectations.

Arizona’s ability to end last season with an 81-81 record in spite of its numerous pitching problems is a testament to 2013 National League MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt, who batted .302 and led the team in slugging percentage (.551), home runs (36), RBIs (125) and runs scored (103). But there’s only so much of a load that a single hitter can shoulder.

Looking at this season’s already-depleted pitching rotation and bullpen, it’s difficult to be optimistic, especially in a division packed with top-end pitching talent. All things considered, this year’s Diamondbacks could be in for a lengthy desert drudge.

76-86, 4th in NL West

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