As much as the Diamondbacks have expressed this offseason a desire to manufacture more runs, so too exists just as much of a need for it, and the D-backs know it. With Justin Upton and Chris Young gone, the D-backs have drastically reduced the pure power in their lineup.
Accordingly, pitching has become paramount. The D-backs have the pitching to be contenders in the NL West this season but need the performance, as a staff on paper means nothing without results.
“We have to pitch good,” manger Kirk Gibson said. “I think we’ll be able to score our share of runs, we’ll be able to manufacture more runs than we have in the past (and) we probably won’t hit as many home runs. If we don’t pitch, we’re going to be just like everybody else that doesn’t pitch — we’re not going to have a shot at all.”
There seems to be very little disagreement, if any, that the D-backs have assembled a pretty formidable starting rotation. Opening Day starter Ian Kennedy has more wins (36) over the past two seasons combined than any other National League pitcher. Left-hander Wade Miley is coming off a 16-win season that saw him finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and young lefty Patrick Corbin will be looking to build on a strong spring in which he convincingly won the final rotation spot.
The D-backs also believe Trevor Cahill, who shed 12-15 pounds this offseason and starts Tuesday, is poised for a big season, perhaps his best as a professional.
“Hopefully he will be up around 20 wins and 200-plus innings,” Gibson said.
The most intriguing piece of the starting rotation, though, might be newcomer Brandon McCarthy. The D-backs signed the 29-year-old right-hander to a two-year deal this winter despite McCarthy’s recurring shoulder problems and a head injury suffered last season when he was hit by a line drive.
McCarthy has shown no ill effects of the head injury this spring, and the consensus among baseball prognosticators is McCarthy could have a breakout season with the D-backs.
The Diamondbacks also have a loaded bullpen highlighted by a back-end trio of Heath Bell, David Hernandez and J.J. Putz — the ex-closer, closer-in-waiting and closer, respectively. This aspect in particular gives the D-backs confidence they can overcome any offensive shortcomings to contend and return to the playoffs after a disappointing 2012 season.
“The Giants had a nice offense last year, but they won with their pitching and their ‘pen,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “If their ‘pen wouldn’t have performed like it did with their back to the wall late in postseason last year, they might not have ended up with a World Series trophy.”
That first part of Towers’ quote is particularly applicable to the D-backs. The Giants won with their pitching and their bullpen. But it is one thing to have the pitching; it’s another to get the results.
With a lighter-hitting offense behind them, the starting pitchers have less room for error. Kennedy cannot be as inconsistent as he admittedly was at times last year, though he’ll be a significant asset should he win another 15 games.
Cahill cannot spot teams leads early in games, as he did so often in 2012. And Corbin must provide a serviceable fifth starter lest he be sent out and replaced by Tyler Skaggs or Randall Delgado, talented prospects waiting for a chance.
The relievers, too, must perform to expectations, as they’ll likely have thinner leads to hold or deficits to maintain. Bell must return to the form that placed him among baseball’s elite relievers before a disastrous season in Miami. Ziegler must at least come close to the quiet dominance he provided in the middle of games last season, and Putz must stay healthy.
That’s certainly a lot of musts, and it’s of course impossible to guarantee any particular performance will determine the outcome of a 162-game season. But with the team of so-called “grinders” and “gamers” the D-backs are fielding, there is a greater onus on pitchers to produce.
The NL West has for a while been a division that’s come down to pitching. The Giants return their strong starting rotation from 2012 along with what was regarded then as the best bullpen in the league. The Dodgers fortified their rotation behind Clayton Kershaw with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The D-backs have the ability to keep pace with those teams, but ability means very little if it doesn’t lead to wins.