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2014 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Big Question: Can the Diamondbacks withstand the injury to Patrick Corbin and get over the .500 mark?

The Diamondbacks won 94 games in 2011, the first year that general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson were paired together, but the team has underperformed expectations since. Towers attempted to remake the team in the (gritty) image of his manager last offseason, most notably by dealing Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and a trio of prospects. However, his bold moves didn’t make much of a difference in the standings, as the club finished at 81-81 for a second straight year.

While Towers attempted to make a splash on the free agent market this winter, most of his moves were once again made through significant trades. The big one was a three-team deal that brought Mark Trumbo to Arizona and sent Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and Adam Eaton to the White Sox. He later made another deal with Chicago, this time dealing third base prospect Matt Davidson in exchange for closer Addison Reed. After trying to acquire a frontline starting pitcher for most of the winter, the club added Bronson Arroyo on a two-year, $19 million contract last month.

Will these moves be enough to challenge the rival Dodgers for the NL West crown? Realistically, no. And let’s face it, they probably wouldn’t have been favored even if they did land Masahiro Tanaka, David Price, or Jeff Samardzija. However, Towers’ inability to acquire a frontline starter this offseason stands out even more now that Patrick Corbin has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, setting up the possibility of season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Without Corbin, the Diamondbacks project to begin the year with a rotation of Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Bronson Arroyo, and Randall Delgado. Decent, but it doesn’t exactly scream playoffs. As for the lineup, Trumbo and last year’s NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt should provide plenty of thump in the middle of the order. Trumbo still has his flaws, as he doesn’t get on base often and figures to be a poor defender in the outfield. Fortunately for Arizona’s pitchers, A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra can cover a lot of ground. Martin Prado continues to fly under the radar on both sides of the ball while Aaron Hill should be an asset if he’s healthy and Miguel Montero should be a pretty good bet for a rebound. This is an interesting team, but make no mistake, the Corbin injury takes some wind out of their sails.

What else is going on?

  • Top pitching prospect Archie Bradley has been the talk of camp this spring and Corbin’s injury makes it more likely that he’ll see significant time in the majors this year. The 21-year-old right-hander posted a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts over 152 innings last season between High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile and was recently ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the game by Baseball America. His command is said to be a work in progress, but it might not be long before we see him in the majors. My guess is it could happen as soon as the end of April.
  • The Diamondbacks are currently holding a competition between Didi Gregorius and prospect Chris Owings for the starting shortstop job. Gregorius, who was acquired from the Reds last winter in a three-team trade, hit .252/.332/.373 with seven home runs and 28 RBI in 103 games as a rookie last year and provided solid defense at shortstop. Owings, who is more known for his bat, is reportedly the favorite at this time. Whoever loses the battle could begin the season in the minors, though it’s possible one of them could be traded. The Mets and Tigers are among the teams who could inquire.
  • Arizona’s bullpen was in a state of flux for much of last season, as they used three different pitchers (J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, and Brad Ziegler) out of the closer role and their relievers tied for the major league lead with 29 blown saves. Ziegler actually enjoyed success as the closer despite a low strikeout rate, but Towers acquired a more traditional swing-and-miss option over the winter in Addison Reed. While some worry about Reed’s fly ball rate in the desert, he has survived in a hitter-friendly ballpark before and the Diamondbacks are better off having Ziegler available for high-leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings when they really need a ground ball.
  • The Diamondbacks declined their 2015 options on Towers and Gibson after last season, which effectively set them up for lame duck status this year. Team brass apparently wasn’t comfortable with the perception and possible distractions involved, as they had a change of heart and extended the contracts for both of them. Exact terms weren’t announced, but we’ll likely hear more speculation about their job status if they miss the playoffs or take a step back this year.

Prediction: The offense should be there, but the rotation isn’t anything special and you can’t count on Bradley to be a savior. Fourth place, NL West.

Settling the Scores: Saturday’s results

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Denard Span #2 of the San Francisco Giants, right, is congratulated by Roberto Kelly #39 after hitting a two-run home run during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on September 24, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Amid the clash and clatter of division races, wild card nail-biters, and postseason finishes, the Giants and Padres played a baseball game.

It wasn’t a particularly brilliant game — Madison Bumgarner surrendered five runs and a season-high three homers over six frames, while the bullpen blew a one-run lead in the seventh — but it served its purpose in the end. Denard Span’s 10th inning home run cemented the Giants’ 82nd win of the season, scooting them half a game up in the wild card standings and keeping the Dodgers from clinching the division.

Granted, the Dodgers only need one more win (or, alternatively, a Giants’ loss) to lay claim to the division title, and it’s almost certain that they’ll take the NL West on Sunday. A division title may be out of reach for the Giants, but they’ll still face fierce competition from the Mets and Cardinals for a wild card spot heading into the last week of the season.

Here are the rest of the box scores from Saturday’s games. Keep an eye out for Dustin Pedroia‘s grand slam, Josh Reddick‘s grand slam, and Hunter Renfroe’s first career home run.

Royals 7, Tigers 4

Cardinals 10, Cubs 4

Rangers 5, Athletics 0

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 0

Red Sox 6, Rays 4

Orioles 6, Diamondbacks 1

Nationals 6, Pirates 1

Marlins 6, Braves 4

White Sox 8, Indians 1

Reds 6, Brewers 1

Angels 10, Astros 4

Phillies 10, Mets 8

Twins 3, Mariners 2

Giants 9, Padres 6 (10 innings)

Dodgers 14, Rockies 1

Dodgers move within a game of division win

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Josh Reddick #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers (R) celebrates with Yasmani Grandal #9, Adrian Gonzalez #23, and Justin Turner #10 after all score on Reddick's grand slam home run in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   The Dodgets won 14-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, the Nationals staked their claim in the NL East and the Red Sox secured a postseason berth. Today, the Dodgers stand on the cusp of their fourth consecutive division title, with only Tyler Anderson and Ty Blach in their way.

Any combination of a Dodgers win and Giants loss will secure the NL West for Los Angeles, who missed their opportunity to clinch last night despite a 14-1 drubbing at Dodger Stadium. In the end, it came down to the Giants, who pulled off an extra-inning victory against the Padres and delayed the Dodgers’ playoff revelry for another day.

In lieu of starter Rich Hill, whom manager Dave Roberts intends to reserve for next weekend’s set against the Giants, the Dodgers will go to right-hander Brandon McCarthy on the mound. It’s been a rough year for McCarthy, who has not made a regular season start for the club since August 13, when he left the game with stiffness in his right hip after 1  innings. According to Baseball Injury Consultants, the 33-year-old missed 179 days on the disabled list in 2016, due in large part to a prolonged recovery from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2015.

Thankfully for the Dodgers, their fallback is a good, old-fashioned offense. They’ve outscored their opponents 46-23 in the last week and are currently riding a five-game winning streak after taking back-to-back series against the Giants and Rockies. Should they win on Sunday, they’ll face off against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS on October 7.