2018 Arizona Diamondbacks: Damn Dodgers

Next man up: After Dave Stewart’s tenure as GM, it won’t be as easy to repair the farm system as it was the big team, which won 93 games last year. Stewart emptied from the bottom up. Taylor Clarke was drafted in the third round, and has progressed in three years to AAA. He won’t be as good a pitcher as Stewart was, but he might be something Stewart wasn’t as GM — reliable. Clarke throws strikes, fanned 107 in 111.1 innings and had a 2.91 ERA in AA last year. Good teams need back-end-of-the-rotation starters, too.

What he said: Newly signed outfielder Jarrod Dyson: “My game is speed. Speed does a lot. Speed helps you win ballgames, I’ll tell you that.” What he meant: “What did Earl Weaver know?”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. The Diamondbacks can beat the Dodgers, playoffs excepted. They were one of two teams with a winning record again L.A. last year, beating them 11 of 19 games (the Rockies were 10-9 vs. L.A.). The Diamondbacks outscored the Dodgers by 28 runs (the Rockies by just one) and beat them six times in nine days last August-September, outscoring them in that span, 40-13 and holding them to one run or less four times. 2. The Diamondbacks were second in ERA (3.66) in the NL and third in MLB, and had four starters with ERAs of 3.49 or lower. The fifth, Patrick Corbin, had a 3.26 ERA in the second half of the season. All are back, and all pitched more than 155 innings last year. 3. Stewart wasn’t fired for any single trade, but none was worse than swapping Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte for Shelby Miller, who led the NL with 17 losses as Brave in 2015, was 3-12 as a D’back in 2016 and made only four starts in 2017 because of Tommy John surgery. Miller is not as bad as that — he has a career 3.67 ERA and .668 OPS — and he’s expected back about midseason. More starting pitching is like chicken soup — it can’t hurt.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. Jake Lamb can’t hit lefties, and the Diamondbacks just traded Brandon Drury, who can at least a little. Lamb is a first-division third baseman — vs. right-handed pitchers. Against lefties, he has a .159 average and .566 OPS in 358 career plate appearances, and he’s getting worse. Last year he batted .144 and slugged .288 vs. lefties, and the Diamondbacks seemed not to notice, starting him 143 times. Drury played mostly second base last year, but now that he’s a Yankee, the D-backs have one fewer righty bat in the infield. Asking Lamb to do something he’s not good at isn’t the kind of management that will catch the Dodgers. 2. Andrew Chafin was the team’s best left-handed reliever last year, and he was average, at best. He had a 3.51 ERA and .699 OPS against, which made him better than Jorge De La Rosa (4.21 ERA, .718 OPS) and Felipe Rivero compared to T.J. McFarland (5.33 ERA .757 OPS). With the entire offseason to improve, the Diamondbacks did for their left-handed relief corps what they did to their third-base platoon — nothing. It’s not as if a team in the NL West won’t face lefties Cody Bellinger and Charlie Blackmon 19 games a year. And now that the Padres have signed him, Eric Hosmer, too. 3. Jeff Mathis’ career is one of baseball’s great mysteries — how does he keep a job, year after year after year, out after out after out (others: Who ever thought Mike Bielecki was a great prospect? What did the Phillies see in No. 1 pick  Mickey Moniak? Whose idea was it to draft Steve Chilcott ahead of Reggie Jackson? Tim Tebow major leaguer?) Mathis is the apparent backup catcher for the D-backs, which he was last year when he hit .215/277/323. That’s a good year for Mathis, whose career slash line in 13 seasons is .198/256/309. If you think it’s the defense which keeps Mathis employed, he’s thrown out 28% of opposing base runners in his career, barely above the league average of 27%. For most, that level of incompetence would have earned a couple of performance warnings and/or termination. But here he is. The Diamondbacks signed Alex Avila in the offseason to replace Chris Iannetta, which seems a fair deal. Avila had an .834 OPS in 376 plate appearances last year, Iannetta an .865 OPS in 316 plate appearances. But Avila’s 376 plate appeances last season were his most since 2014 because he’s had an unfortunate history of concussions. That means there’s a decent chance the D-backs’ backup catcher will be more than a platoon partner for the lefty Avila. Of course, Mathis isn’t very good at even that. His .642 career OPS vs. lefties isn’t much better than Avila’s .611. It used to be easy to blame Angels manager Mike Scioscia for Mathis, since he caught Mathis and not Mike Napoli as the former batted .194 and had a .557 OPS in seven seasons. But seven seasons and three teams later, Mathis is still playing and not hitting. You can’t blame Scioscia for that.

Team song: Colin Hay: Can’t Take This Town

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