D-backs open season (again) with high hopes
PHOENIX — Amid the pageantry and excitement of Opening Day at Chase Field on Monday, it was easy to forget the Diamondbacks’ season already began more than a week earlier.
But even if the D-backs’ two losses to the Dodgers in the Opening Series in Australia marked the official start of their year, Monday felt like the season’s true beginning. And as with every Opening Day, optimism reigned.
"I think we feel very good about ourselves," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We feel very good about where we’re headed."
The D-backs lost ace starting pitcher Patrick Corbin and setup man David Hernandez to elbow injuries but they feel good about a pitching staff with the additions of veteran starter Bronson Arroyo and closer Addison Reed.
Offensively, too, the D-backs feel more prepared to succeed. Adding slugging outfielder Mark Trumbo to the lineup and going with offense-oriented shortstop Chris Owings, the D-backs are confident they’ll score more runs.
"I feel like we’ve got a good hitting ball club," catcher Miguel Montero said. "Hopefully the days we didn’t score runs in spring training we were just saving it for today."
Apparent underneath all the optimism, though, is a sense of urgency not surprising for a team coming off back-to-back .500 seasons. Of course, a sense of urgency can only be so urgent on Opening Day. The D-backs have time to find a groove. Their sense of urgency is more about the season as a whole.
Whether players admit consecutive 81-81 seasons create additional pressure to win, there’s little disagreement the D-backs have a small margin for error this season. In a division where the Dodgers can spend freely to get better, the Giants are a consistent threat at least every other year and the Padres and Rockies appear improved, the D-backs cannot afford to be average anymore.
"There’s no room for mistakes," Montero said. "In the years before and every year it’s the same: We’ve just got to come locked in every day."
Speaking out of the other side of their mouths, a few D-backs offered the "It’s a long season" narrative, and they’re right. The reigning division champion Dodgers — a last-place team prepared to fire its manager in mid 2013 — offered a perfect example.
"We see every year across baseball there’s always teams that start slow and pick it up or teams that start hot and kind of have that time where they struggle," first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. "So whatever happens, happens. You just go out there and play and at the end of the year hopefully you have enough wins to make the playoffs and hopefully win the World Series."
As much as the D-backs preach forgetting about 2013 and approaching 2014 as a clean slate, the message this offseason was clear: .500 baseball isn’t acceptable. The D-backs want more, and they spent money hoping to get, reaching a franchise record payroll of roughly $115 million.
The D-backs also made coaching changes, extended the contracts of Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers and brought in pitching guru Dave Duncan. It was clearly the offseason of a team determined to turn things around, but it hasn’t inspired much confidence outside the organization — not that the D-backs put much stock external opinions.
"We’ve been challenged before," Gibson said. "I look back through the history and the years we’ve won nobody expected us to win those years. You never really know. You have to keep it in perspective."
The D-backs’ perspective begins in a 0-2 hole. While the D-backs treated Monday as a new beginning — and rightfully so — the reality is they are already playing catch-up to the Dodgers.
Still, with the season beginning in earnest, the D-backs have a more true point from which to begin the grind of the regular season. With 159 games to play beyond Monday night, the D-backs know they have many opportunities to succeed and must on a regular basis.
"We’ve got to stick it out," Gibson said. "I feel really good about this group. I think they feel good about themselves. They have real ownership; we’ve given them more input. I think we’re fully engaged in what’s ahead of us."