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Was 2017 a fluke for the Diamondbacks?

The Arizona Diamondbacks failed to re-sign J.D. Martinez, but they still have a formidable lineup. If their starting rotation and bullpen hold up, the Dbacks should compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL Western Division.

Last year for the first time since 2011, the Dbacks went to the playoffs. After defeating the Colorado Rockies in an epic offensive showdown to advance to the NLDS, the Dbacks were swept by the high-flying Dodgers. It was clear that the NL Wild-Card game wore out the Dbacks’ pitching staff.

After having many years of pitching problems in Arizona, the Dbacks were thrilled how well their pitching staff performed in ’17. Their ERA was 3.66, second in the NL, just behind the Dodgers. Zack Greinke rebounded from a tough ’16 marred by injury and command problems. Will he do satisfactory in ’18 when he is 34? This spring Greinke has been slowed by a groin injury, so he won’t start Opening Day.

Robbie Ray, 26, had a breakout ’17 season when he was named to his first All-Star team. Many people thought he should have been in the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. Although he was effectively wild, his ERA of 2.89 led the Dbacks’ rotation. Can Ray duplicate his performance in ‘18

Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, and Taijuan Walker performed beyond expectations in ’17. With another year of Major-League experience, they should have better command of the strike zone and knowledge of the opposition. But will they perform well in ’18 after having a heavy workload in ’17?

Instead of being a weakness like in many recent years, the Dbacks’ bullpen was excellent in ’17. This offseason the Dbacks elected not to re-sign their 40-year-old closer Fernando Rodney who sometimes made saves adventurous. The Dbacks plan to use Archie Bradley, an excellent eighth-inning setup man in ’17, as their closer. This changes the dynamic of their bullpen. Will Bradley respond favorably to the added pressure of preserving victories in the ninth inning? Will the Dbacks find another effective 8th-inning setup man to replace Bradley in that role?

The offensive production for the Dbacks rarely has been a problem. After all, they play half their games in Phoenix where the altitude and arid air affects the flight of the ball. In ’16, the Dbacks had offensive production problems caused by many injuries to key players. In ’17, the Dbacks scored the fourth most runs in the NL. When the Dbacks chose not to re-sign Martinez who joined the club in July and produced unbelievably well, including a 4-homer game against the Dodgers in September, their offense took a blow.

Still, the Dbacks have perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt to go with Mike Lamb. The Dbacks need their shortstops Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings to remain healthy and contribute to the offense. They need Yasmany Tomas to be productive and be able to play satisfactorily in outfield. The Dbacks need to remain healthy.

Defensively, the Dbacks have much room for improvement. In ’17 despite making the playoffs, they had the third most errors in the league. This put unnecessary stress on the pitching staff. Allowing the opposition unearned scoring opportunities can lead to disaster.

The Dbacks must prove 2017 was no fluke. If their pitching continues to mature and succeed, they should compete with the elite teams in the league. But if it doesn’t, the ’18 season will be long for Arizona and the NL Manager of the Year Torey Lovullo. Baseball needs the Dbacks to be competitive to show a team that plays in a smaller market than Los Angeles or New York can be a perennial elite team.

This article was originally published on sports