D-backs brace for tougher competition

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When it comes to all the changes that took place in the National League West this offseason, Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson might have put it best.

“It’s hard not to notice everything,” Hudson said. “I think a lot of guys would be lying if they said they didn’t pay attention to it at all.”

While they remain primarily focused on their own goals, the D-backs are well aware of the improvement that happened within the division as teams try to dethrone them as NL West champions.

In the age of Twitter, the MLB Network and seemingly endless outlets for sports news online, hot stove news travels far and fast. Accordingly, the D-backs are conscious of the fact that their shot at repeating as division champions got even tougher this winter.

“Everybody knows that every team in the division got better this offseason, and I think that’s really got to motivate everybody to play better,” Hudson said.

The D-backs enter the season with a target on their backs, and the NL West could produce one of baseball’s best races. The Dodgers bolstered a pitching staff led by NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The Giants get better by virtue of Buster Posey’s health, but they also added outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan.

The Rockies retooled with all-star outfielder Michael Cuddyer, catcher Ramon Hernandez and starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. And the Padres made a slew of moves, bringing on outfielder Carlos Quentin, closer Huston Street and top first base prospect Yonder Alonso.

The D-backs’ competition was clearly not content to sit tight, but neither were the D-backs.

“We didn’t want to stand pat,” D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. “We knew the rest of the division was going to get better, and I think they have.”

Towers and the rest of the front office addressed the D-backs needs by adding starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, relievers Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito and outfielder Jason Kubel. Those are the moves the D-backs like to focus on most, but as Hudson said, it’s hard not to ignore what your chief competitors are doing to improve.

“I think you monitor it,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “The players, I’m sure they keep up, and we respect everybody we play. Everybody’s out there (going) for the same prize.”

Gibson was also quick to note, though, that the offseason is more about focusing on your own improvement and that of the organization.

D-backs center fielder Chris Young shared Gibson’s stance that the greater focus is internal.

“You’ll see it on the ticker every now and then, but it’s not like you’re stressing about it or focusing on it,” Young said. “You realize the signings, but I think you still try to focus more on what you have. You can’t sit there and watch what everybody else is doing. You’ve got to focus on your squad and say ‘Is our squad good enough to beat anybody out there?'”

while some D-backs are more tuned in to what’s going on around the league than others, they all know that every team in the division has its sights set on what they’ve got — the NL West crown.

“It just lets you know that no team’s in a rebuilding mode,” Hudson said. “They’re trying to win now, they’re trying to go for it now. It makes it exciting to know that we’re going to have a lot of good games, a lot of good battles within the NL West this year.”

The division is typically rich in pitching, and with the likes of Ian Kennedy, Tim Lincecum and Kershaw, that’s not about to change, though the new hitters moving in could make things a little tougher on those aces.

With Cuddyer, Quentin, and Cabrera joining the likes of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki, the division looks to get a bit more offensive.

Given the improvement all around within the NL West, another tight, down-to-the-wire race can be expected. To a man, the D-backs expect to be in that race, and they’re hoping they can break out of the pack.

“If you were to go on paper, I love the way our team looks,” Young said. “I can’t really speak for any other teams, but I feel like we have a very strong squad this year that is extremely capable of surpassing what we did last year.”