2016 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Associated Press
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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 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.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).