Craig Calcaterra

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke throws during spring baseball season practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Associated Press

2016 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks


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 2016 season. Next up: The Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks made perhaps the biggest and most surprising move of the offseason in signing Zack Greinke following his opt-out with the Dodgers. Putting him at the top of their rotation — the day after revealing their new uniform combinations — instantly transformed the image of the Dbacks. And instantly got people talking about them as contenders. But was adding Greinke enough?

No one player can make a baseball team, of course, but there was more than one addition this past winter. Joining Greinke at the top of the rotation is Shelby Miller, acquired in a trade from the Braves. Miller was historically unlucky in Atlanta last year, ending up being the first pitcher to lose 17 games with an ERA under 3.50 since 1984. His run support was awful and things just always broke wrong for him, rarely is own doing. While his strikeout and walk rates and his move to a far more hitter-friendly ballpark may suggest that he’s not quite as good as his 2015 ERA suggests, he’s a nice upgrade for the Snakes. Moreover, Arizona will have the services of Patrick Corbin all year long. Corbin made a nice comeback from Tommy John surgery in half a season last year and has looked sharp this spring. Expect the Diamondbacks to have the best 1-2-3 in the rotation that they’ve had in years.

The lineup is headed up by one of the best hitters in all of baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, who should be an MVP candidate once again. Behind him is A.J. Pollack, a guy so often called the most underrated player in the game that he may no longer be underrated. But he’s still outstanding, both with the bat and the glove. David Peralta hit a ton last season. Yasmany Tomas‘ rookie year was nothing to write home about at the plate, but he has potential as a hitter, as do prospects Brandon Drury and outfielder Peter O’Brien and third baseman Jake Lamb. The Dbacks will score runs, both because of their talent and because of their home park.

The biggest problem on this team, however, is going to be defense. Pollock is great but the Dbacks lost one of the best defensive outfielders in the game when they traded Ender Inciarte to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. That will move Tomas — who was an absolute trainwreck at third base last year — to the outfield, where one can’t reasonably expect him to be any good with the leather either. Peralta is no great shakes himself. Between the more hitter-friendly park and the butchers in the outfield corners, Greinke and Miller may wish they came here at times.

The one other big addition of the offseason was Tyler Clippard. He’ll likely get the highest leverage innings while Brad Ziegler closes and Daniel Hudson helps out late. Assuming health, it could be a nice back-end.

There is a lot to like about the Diamondbacks. Many are picking them as a sleeper team this year, claiming that they may be a surprise challenger to the Dodgers and Giants. I don’t know that you can be that big of a surprise when you sign Zack Greinke and have Paul Goldschmidt anchoring the lineup, but I do think they could be a pretty frisky team, especially if Corbin and Miller continue to build on their 2015 performances. I do worry an awful lot about defense, though. Defense has been absolutely critical for contending teams in the past several seasons, and Arizona’s could be a disaster.

Prediction: Third place, NL West. But, like I said, they could be pretty frisky.

2016 Preview: San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, right, throws the ball to starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija before the team's spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Associated Press

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 2016 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

If the Dodgers have questions about their rotation, the Giants sure don’t. At least at the top. San Francisco made a concerted effort to upgrade the pitching over the winter, signing star right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. They’ll join Madison Bumgarner atop what looks to be a devastating 1-2-3 combo for opposing hitters. At least if Bumgarner’s aches this spring prove to be minor. Which, at the moment, they seem to be. Depth could be a concern, though. Matt Cain‘s continued injury woes have pushed Chris Heston into the five-spot behind Jake Peavy at four, and beyond those guys, there are not a lot of reinforcements should any of the horses pull up lame.

The lineup is likewise solid. As always, things start with a Hall of Fame-bound catcher Buster Posey. The biggest non-Posey factor in the lineup may be Brandon Belt, who was terrific during the 137 games he played in 2015, hitting .280/.356/.478 with 18 homers and 68 RBI. The most curious part of Belt’s 2015: 18 homers, which came alongside his lowest fly ball percentage of his career (37.9%). His contact and his talent is such that, if that fly ball rate was an anomaly, Belt could be find himself having a breakout year some point soon, pairing that nice uptick in on-base and slugging with a bunch of extra long balls too. Beyond those two, the supporting cast of Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy were all excellent last year, giving the Giant a well-rounded lineup. If Hunter Pence can shake off his injury-plagued 2015 and return to form this season, that lineup goes from well-rounded to downright scary.

As is the case with the rotation, depth may be the offense’s only weak spot. Denard Span was signed to a three-year contract to serve as the club’s leadoff hitter, and he’s a good on when healthy, but he missed a lot of time last year. If he and Pence are on the DL again this year Gregor Blanco can definitely fill in, but Angel Pagan showed some serious decline last year so Blanco may be better-used to replace him in left than to fill-in for injuries. A bigger question is the catching corps behind Posey, which has been racked with injuries this spring. Finding a way to keep their star fresh without the DH is a challenge Bruce Bochy is used to, but one which is still kind of annoying.

The Giant are an excellent team on paper. And hey, it’s an even year and they always win the World Series in even years, right? The biggest x-factor for them is what to do if and when the injury bug hits, which it always does in some way, shape or form. They have a front office which has, in the past, done well in finding replacements on the fly, however.

I’m bullish on San Francisco. Depending on the injury situation, they could easily beat the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even if they don’t, they have enough talent to be in the playoff mix all season long.

Prediction: Second place, N.L. West, but it will be not at all shocking if they win the dang thing.

The Tigers turned a triple play yesterday

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 8.56.10 AM

The Detroit Tigers pulled off a triple play in a split-squad game against the Braves.

Atlanta’s Willians Astudo lined a shot to Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, who got it on a bounce and flipped the ball to second baseman Ian Kinsler, who (a) tagged the runner who had been on second; (b) touched second to force the runner coming from first; and (c) then fired to first baseman Miguel Cabrera to complete the triple play.

Kinsler said he didn’t even know how many outs were made on the play until it was over. It went by too fast, he said.

“It was just a line drive, I touched the base and threw to first. It was the perfect storm,” Kinsler said.