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Reason to be optimistic about D-backs but how optimistic

It’s Opening Day and with it brings eternal optimism for the baseball fan. Here in Arizona there is hope that the Diamondbacks will be competitive.

After losing 97 games last season they really can’t be any worse then they were last year, can they?

The answer to that is of course not.

For starters, Arizona won’t strikeout 1,500-plus times as they did last season. Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche are both gone and with it goes a whopping 383 strikeouts.

They also lose a 57 home runs and 185 runs batted in with those guys, but the reality is that sacrifices had to be made.

Too often last season the Diamondbacks gave away at-bats. There is such a thing as a productive out and a strikeout is not included in it. When you strikeout 1,529 times you are not moving a runner over from second to third, not driving in a run on a ground ball to the right side with less than two outs, not bringing in a run on a sacrifice fly and not putting pressure on a defense to make a throw.

Productive outs are vital to any team that expects to have success and Arizona just didn’t have many productive outs last year. So with the strikeouts being gone there will be more of an emphasis on doing the little things that win ball games and less on the long ball.

Another area that will improve is the bullpen. Arizona’s bullpen ERA of 5.74 was one of the worst in the history of baseball — sixth worst since 1953. Gone is Bobby Howry, Chad Qualls, Blaine Boyer, Cesar Valdez and Leo Rosales, who all contributed to that disaster of a pen. The Diamondbacks may very well have the best closer in their short history in JJ Putz, who had a 2.85 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 54 innings last season. The bullpen improvement alone should be the difference in 5 to 10 games in the standings.

Arizona also added experience and you can’t underestimate the difference late in a game of having a Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, Henry Blanco, Xavier Nady and Russell Branyan coming off your bench compared to last year when you had Rusty Ryal, Tony Abreu, Cole Gillespie and John Hester, among others. Veteran players know how to work the count and make a relief pitcher work. Arizona should have a much improved bench.

The rotation is young, no question about that, but it has talent in Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright.

Quality starts and innings will be crucial for this team to have any success this year. And big years from Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Miguel Montero and Chris Young could go a long way to making up for the loss of power.

The Diamondbacks will have their issues. They are strong up the middle but could be weak at first base, third base and left field where they will be employing stop-gap bridge type players, especially at third base with Melvin Mora.

Another key issue is addition by subtraction — not having Chris Snyder and Qualls on this team is a major plus as both were extremely negative and bad clubhouse guys.

For a D-backs fan, you should be optimistic. The real question is how optimistic.

Arizona is building something special here, especially with the talent they have in the minors like Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs. But for now it would be nice to see Arizona be competitive and put a good product on the field. I think they can do that.

While Arizona is not a playoff team there is reason to believe that they could have a 10-15 game improvement over last season, putting them somewhere between 75 and 80 wins. I think it is realistic to expect this type of improvement because despite what the spring training results showed, there is some talent here. My prediction is Arizona finishes 80-82 and that there is a lot more enjoyment at Chase Field this season.