D-backs make strides as young talent emerges
PHOENIX -- Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said last November that he would be "brokenhearted" if his Arizona Diamondbacks did not finish 2015 with a winning record.
While the D-backs wound up on the losing side of .500, La Russa was no doubt heartened by the big strides this year from 2014, when they lost 98 games and had the worst record in baseball.
"Obviously we are judged on wins and losses," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "We do believe that we could have won a lot more games, but I'm sure a lot of teams are saying that."
What La Russa, general manager Dave Stewart and Hale will judge the D-backs on this year is the progress of the young roster. The team had young players at just about every position and not one game was started by a pitcher over the age of 30.
"If you look at those things and then you look at the wins and losses that we have, I think it's been a successful season for us," Hale said. "The guys have played, I think, as hard as anybody in the league. I don't think there's a team, if you were to poll Major League Baseball scouts who watch all these games, that plays the game harder than us, and that makes me proud as a manager. For our coaching staff, I think we've gotten them prepared every day and our training staff led by Ken Crenshaw has done a great job keeping them physically prepared. So I think it's been a successful season."
The rotation was looked at by pundits as a weakness heading into the season with Opening Day starter Josh Collmenter fronting an inexperienced staff, and that proved to be the case.
The D-backs finished toward the bottom of the National League in ERA by starters, but even more problematic was that only the Rockies received fewer innings from the rotation than Arizona.
Again, though, there were flashes from youngsters Chase Anderson and Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray that showed their potential.
"When you look at the starters and the time they had in the big leagues coming into the season, maybe it was a pipe dream to think they could do what we thought they could do," Hale said. "But we saw all the signs of what we want to see, but that's what we need next year -- consistent performance."
Record: 79-83, third place, NL West
Defining moment: The D-backs returned from a 6-4 East Coast road trip on Aug. 24, having just swept a four-game series from the Reds that put them a game over .500 and just five games behind the first-place Dodgers.
The D-backs, though, were swept in a four-game series by the Cardinals at Chase Field and finished their homestand 1-6 and 9 1/2 games out.
What went right: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt turned in another All-Star campaign while A.J. Pollock served notice that he is one of the best outfielders both offensively and defensively as they headed up a lineup that produced plenty of runs.
Outfielder David Peralta, who just a few years ago was an unsuccessful pitcher and out of the game, emerged as a serious offensive threat. Ender Inciarte also put together a good season at the plate while playing some of the best defense in either league, according to the runs saved metric.
The catcher's spot, which was thought to be a weakness during the spring, actually wound up providing solid offensive numbers thanks to the in-season acquisitions of Welington Castillo and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as they filled in for the injured Tuffy Gosewisch.
After missing all of last season and the first three months of this year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, left-hander Patrick Corbin showed he could be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher again. Two-time Tommy John patient Daniel Hudson was able to stay healthy all season.
For the second year in a row, Brad Ziegler took over for ineffective closer Addison Reed and was one of the most reliable closers in the game.
What went wrong: The rotation was never able to consistently pitch deep into games, which overtaxed the bullpen and seemed to prevent the club from getting on any kind of sustained winning streak.
Former No. 1 pick Archie Bradley made the Opening Day rotation and pitched well in his first few starts, but was struck in the face by a line drive on April 28 and struggled afterward before going on the DL with shoulder inflammation and finishing the year in the Minors.
Biggest surprise: Peralta had a good campaign in 2014, but he took a big step forward in 2015, becoming the player that Hale trusted most to hit behind Goldschmidt in the lineup. Left-handed pitchers gave Peralta trouble last year, but he was much improved against them this year.
Hitter of the Year: Once again, Goldschmidt was the heart and soul of the lineup and produced huge offensive numbers. Consistency is a hallmark for him, and after a rare drop-off in production in August when he hit .243, Hale speculated that he was a little worn down having gotten just one complete game off through the first four-plus months of the season.
Pitcher of the Year: It's easy to overlook Ziegler as a potential closer because he does not have an overpowering fastball and his submarine delivery was more prominent on closers like Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry a generation ago. But there's no arguing with the results Ziegler gets, and at $5 million this year with a $5.5 million option for 2016, he is a bargain.
Rookie of the Year: Left-hander Andrew Chafin was moved to the bullpen to start the season and wound up being one of the team's most consistent relievers. He was able to pitch multiple innings and get righties as well as lefties out.