The NL West has been somewhat of a procession in recent years, with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning seven straight division titles. The chasing pack this year is led by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are trying to return to the postseason after a two year absence.
Over the last four years the DBacks have finished on average almost 16 games back of LA, culminating last year as they finished a whopping 21 games back. It must be remembered however that at the end of 2018, the DBacks lost Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock to free agency whilst trading away star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt too. To come back in 2019 and win three more games than the previous year is no mean feat.
2020 represents a chance for the rattlesnakes to progress further and they’ve made moves in the offseason in order to do so. Giants legend Madison Bumgarner has come on board signing a five-year $85 million pact in Arizona, a marquee signing who will take the ball on Opening Day.
Bumgarner is no longer the pitcher that played a huge role in three championship teams in San Francisco, as conveyed by giving up a career worst 30 homers last season. Oracle Park is much more pitcher-friendly than Chase Field, so that could be a problem for him. However it can’t be questioned that MadBum is reliable, regardless of whether or not he is elite anymore. He will eat innings, he won’t walk many hitters and he will still strike out 200+ too. His “average” season is better than most pitchers “great” seasons and he will also provide invaluable leadership to a ball club lacking it in the absence of Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, who was traded to the Houston Astros midway through last season.
Robbie Ray has had a couple of down years, but the DBacks will be hoping he can return to the form he showed in 2017 when he went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA. Ray has lost 15lbs in the offseason in the hope he can improve on his lowly 5.1 innings per start. Ray is an excellent strikeout pitcher averaging 11.3 K/9, a number bettered only by Chris Sale and Max Scherzer since 2015. Ray’s problem is walks, averaging 11.6% in 2019. That was his third straight year of a 10%+ walk rate, a number he has to improve on.
The DBacks have big hopes for Zac Gallen for 2020. Gallen came over in mid season trade with the Marlins and impressed hugely in his 80 innings of work in Arizona. His 2.81 ERA and 10.8 K/9 give belief that Gallen can be a big factor in 2020. Luke Weaver arrived as part of the Goldschmidt trade and flashed early in the season, posting a 2.94 ERA in 64 innings of work before injuries struck him down. He’s undoubtedly talented but has never logged more than 140 innings in a season. Given the nature of his injuries (sprained UCL and strained flexor mass) Weaver must prove he can take the ball every fifth day if he is to have a meaningful impact on the DBacks season. Veteran Mike Leake will likely make up the rotation as the fifth starter.
The Diamondbacks bullpen performed pretty well last season, ranking 12th in the majors in ERA. It is a traditionally volatile unit in baseball though and given the shaky performances of Junior Guerra, Yoan Lopez and Archie Bradley last year, there’s a good chance the DBacks pen regresses in 2020. To his credit Bradley bounced back after a woeful first half of 2019, giving up only 6 earned runs over his last 33.2 innings. His 4.5 walks per 9 innings is a worrying number though.
At the plate Ketel Marte broke out in ’19, finishing 5th in NL MVP voting after a power surge led to 32 HR and an impressive slash line of .329/.389/.592. He started the All Star Game and Fangraphs had him third in the NL with 7.1 WAR. ZiPs project he’ll regress to the mean in 2020 but there’s still reason to believe he will continue to establish himself as a star in this league. The DBacks traded for Pirates CF Starling Marte, allowing them to put Ketel at 2B full time, a position they believe he can win a Gold Glove at. In doing so he could form a dynamic middle infield with Gold Glove SS Nick Ahmed.
Kole Calhoun has joined in free agency and will provide a steady bat in the lineup along with a quality glove in right field. David Peralta completes the outfield along with Marte and Calhoun. Third baseman Eduardo Escobar will look to build on his breakout 2019, where he smacked 35 HR, drove in 118 runs and posted an excellent .831 OPS.
Power hitting catcher Daulton Varsho, first baseman Seth Beer, RHP Corbin Martin and third baseman Kevin Cron are all prospects ready to see time in the Majors in 2020. The DBacks farm system is stacked and patience will be key for Arizona, who could have some major talent on their hands in the near future.
Given the Dodgers juggernaut has only gotten stronger with the addition of Mookie Betts, the chances of Arizona wrestling the division away from their stranglehold are incredibly remote. PECOTA is only projecting 79 wins for them but that seems low. There is reason to believe that the DBacks can snatch a wild card berth and if their starting pitching holds up under the leadership of Madison Bumgarner – they can be a threat.