Can D-backs 'shock the world' this season?

March 29th, 2021

When he held his first full-squad meeting this spring, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo began it with a question.

"Are you guys ready to shock the world?" he asked.

With the Dodgers signing Trevor Bauer and bringing back Justin Turner from a World Series championship team and the Padres acquiring pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, the D-backs have been almost an afterthought when it comes to projecting the 2021 postseason.

That's just fine by them.

"It's cool, because the shock-the-world mentality is a no-expectation kind of thing," first baseman Christian Walker said. "We know who we are, we know what we've got to do to be good, and that's what we're going to do. Shock the world? Awesome, because it's like there's no pressure. It's a nothing-to-lose kind of mentality. And I think when that's truly how you show up every day, I think good things are bound to happen."

The D-backs open the regular season April 1 in San Diego. Here's a look at what to expect in 2021:

What needs to go right?

The D-backs need some of their key offensive contributors to have bounceback seasons, like third baseman , catcher and even outfielder , who had a pretty good 2020 but was not the same lineup-changing presence he was in '19

The organization seems confident that the players will do that, and one of the things they cite is the fact that it was just a 60-game season in 2020, and given more time, each of those players may have found a way out of their slumps.

Great unknown

How good is this pitching staff? One of the things that general manager Mike Hazen has said repeatedly is that for the D-backs to be good, their pitching staff needs to lead the way, and there are plenty of questions about the staff going into the season.

With the rotation, seems to have regained some velocity this spring, which would be a good thing for the D-backs. Meanwhile, Arizona will have to replace for at least the first two to three times through the rotation, and will look to put a disastrous 2020 campaign behind him.

The bullpen also has its share of question marks. Veteran figures to be the closer, but the team will rely on several relievers, like and , who do not have long big league track records.

Team MVP will be … Ketel Marte

The D-backs have built their team with the premise that Marte will be an elite player like he was in 2019. The biggest issue for him in '20 was his mechanics at the plate from the left side were off. This spring, he's been driving the ball much better from the left side, as well as doing a better job of controlling the strike zone.

With the emergence of Josh Rojas at second base this spring, for the first time since coming over to the D-backs in 2017, Marte will have one position -- center field -- to focus on.

Team Cy Young will be … Zac Gallen

Gallen will miss the opening of the season with a stress fracture in his right forearm, but the righty is not expected to miss much time.

Since being acquired by the D-backs at the 2019 Trade Deadline, Gallen has unquestionably been the team's best pitcher. He finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting last year, and he could have had an even stronger case if it weren't for two bad innings in mid-September.

Bold prediction: The D-backs make the playoffs

What do the last two D-backs playoff teams -- 2011 and '17 -- have in common? In both years, Arizona was coming off last-place finishes and little was expected. Well, here we are in '21 and the D-backs are coming off a last-place finish and are not among most people’s postseason predictions. 

The times the D-backs have underperformed came the year after those successful seasons when there were actual expectations. It’s possible this year that the D-backs will get enough from their pitching staff while their key offensive performers rebound and Arizona finds a way to win an NL Wild Card spot.