When the Diamondbacks officially report to their Salt River Fields spring training facilities in a couple weeks, they will be the hunted, not the hunter.
The same could not be said a year ago.
After a rough Cactus League season filled with questions about the bullpen, lack of power in the lineup and blending a new staff under Kirk Gibson, the Dbacks promptly marched through the National League West, beating the second-place Giants by eight games. The Cinderella ride ended with a Game Five loss to the Brewers in the NLDS.
With a new season, comes new expectations, especially for a team that won 94 games last year and improved in several areas this winter.
“We played pretty well last year and turned the corner in the right direction,” infielder Willie Bloomquist told Brad Cesmat Tuesday on “Big Guy on Sports.” “Coming into spring this year…to a man, I don’t think anyone is satisfied with how we ended last year. We know how good we can be, but we know we have a target on our chest.”
The Snakes added power to the middle of their lineup (Jason Kubel), a key starter to the front end of their rotation (Trevor Cahill), and a quality set-up man down in the bullpen (Takashi Saito), but the rest of the division looks to be improved, as well.
One of the key players in last season’s surprising turnaround was Ian Kennedy who tied Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw with 21 wins and sparkling ERA of 2.88.
“All those wins happen because my team was so good,” Kennedy explained to Cesmat. “I could only go seven innings and feel comfortable turning it over to [our bullpen]. I feel like we had the best set-up man (David Hernandez, 3.38 ERA) and closer (J.J. Putz 45 saves, 2.17 ERA) at the end of the year.”
The Giants, who controlled the division until being passed by the Diamondbacks towards the end of the summer, will again lean on their top-flight starting pitching, while the re-tooled Padres and Rockies will look to bounce back from disappointing seasons. The wild card could be the Dodgers who enter the year with ownership uncertainty, but an ace in Kershaw.
Bloomquist feels 2012 could bring a deeper playoff run for the Dbacks.
“This year, on paper, we’re every bit as good as we were last year,” he said. “In my mind, we’re better. We gotta go out there and get it done. Last year is last year. With the guys we brought in we have the potential to be much better and it’s exciting for us as players.”
Pitchers and catchers will report February 19. Full-squad workouts start on the 24th.