Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Arizona Diamondbacks, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
But you shouldn’t be too upset. After the failures of 2016, you really turned things around. It took a complete overhaul of the front office, manager and culture in the clubhouse, but you got back on track.
In any other year, you might have even won your division, but those pesky Los Angeles Dodgers had to go out and turn in their finest performance in years.
While the year ultimately ended in disappointment, there’s still a lot to celebrate. On the surface, this doesn’t look like a fluky, one-year blip. It looks more like the start of a new contention window.
Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in Arizona:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
General manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo have worked well together over the past year to change the culture and develop players at all levels of the the organization, including the major leagues. Under their regime the starting rotation has flourished, with Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley all taking steps forward. Archie Bradley was moved to the bullpen and seems to have found his niche, settling in as a dominant late-inning reliever with closer potential. The offense was never going to be an issue with Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb around, but the addition of J.D. Martinez at the trade deadline was brilliant. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
Those darn Dodgers got them in the end. Arizona seemed to have LA’s number over the last six weeks, sweeping their last two series during the regular season. But the Dodgers lowered the boom when it really mattered, sweeping the NLDS. Arizona’s downfall can be traced back to the NL wild-card game against Colorado. When Zack Greinke faltered early, Lovullo called on his No. 2 starter Robbie Ray in relief. It worked that night, but it took both out of the mix for Game 1, and left Ray fatigued in his Game 2 start. The D-Backs played catch up from that point on and never could touch the Dodgers. (Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
The Diamondbacks surged after acquiring J.D. Martinez at the All-Star break. In no game was his impact felt more than on Sept. 4, when he launched a record-tying four home runs in a 13-0 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Martinez didn’t start his barrage until the fourth inning, when he opened the scoring with a long two-run shot to the left field bleachers at Dodger Stadium against starter Rich Hill. He would go on to hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings respectively. Each of the four homers came against a different pitcher, and he fnished the game with six RBIs.
Overall, Martinez hit 29 homers in just 62 games with Arizona. Eight of those came during Arizona’s 13-game winning streak that essentially wrapped up a spot in the NL wild-card game. (Mark Townsend)
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
It’s getting redundant to keep saying that a team needs pitching. Most teams need pitching, and the Diamondbacks are no exception. Considering what happened to them in the playoffs, their need is obvious. But as they demonstrated during the regular season, pitching issues can be overcome with ridiculous offense. And they could probably continue their hard hitting ways without J.D. Martinez, but why would you even want to try? The guy hit 45 home runs in 2017, and 29 of them were with the Dbacks. He was 4-for-11 in the playoffs. The guy’s a hitting machine, and picking him up was one of the best deadline deals of the season. He’s a free agent now, and keeping him isn’t going to be cheap. But the Diamondbacks need to give it their best try. Him in the lineup with Paul Goldschmidt for the next few years is just too good to pass up. (Liz Roscher)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
If the Diamondbacks hope to continue contending, they’ll need to do so with the same group of players who pushed them to the postseason in 2017. There’s just not a lot of elite talent in the minors threatening to reach the majors any time soon.
The team should see pitchers Anthony Banda and Taylor Clarke get time with the major-league club next season, but every other prospect needs more time to develop. The team’s top overall prospect is 2017 draft pick Pavin Smith. When a player drafted months ago is immediately a team’s best prospect, that’s usually a sign that the farm system is in transition. That’s not always the case, but it is in this instance.
The good thing for Arizona is that their current core is mostly set to return in 2018. J.D. Martinez is a free-agent, and his departure will hurt, but everyone else should come back. They’ll be a threat again, especially if they are aggressive during free agency. (Chris Cwik)
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
San Francisco Giants | Philadelphia Phillies | Cincinnati Reds | Chicago White Sox | New York Mets | San Diego Padres | Atlanta Braves | Detroit Tigers | Pittsburgh Pirates | Oakland Athletics | Miami Marlins | Toronto Blue Jays | Baltimore Orioles | Seattle Mariners | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Angels | St. Louis Cardinals | Milwaukee Brewers | Minnesota Twins | Colorado Rockies
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