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What the national experts are saying about the Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s here.

After months of roster shuffling, spring training and speculation, the 2016 Major League Baseball season opens up Sunday night with four games, including a World Series rematch in Kansas City with the Royals hosting the New York Mets.

The Arizona Diamondbacks start the ’16 season — the 19th in franchise history — Monday night at Chase Field against the Colorado Rockies. Right-hander Zack Greinke, whom the D-backs signed to a massive six-year, $206.5 million contract last December, will get the Opening Day start.

Arizona’s willingness to improve the starting rotation in the offseason is one of the big reasons why many national experts are predicting continued improvement this season, the second year under manager Chip Hale.

Here’s a quick look at what some around the country are projecting for the boys in Sedona Red this year. (Click blue link to go to outlet’s projection.)

ESPN

The “Worldwide Leader” polled 31 of their baseball experts on standings predictions and award winners for the 2016 season. Seven picked the D-backs to win the NL West, four others picked them to claim one of the league’s two wild card spots.

Eight picked Paul Goldschmidt to win the National League MVP. The believers in “America’s First Baseman” are Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Jessica Mendoza, Jesse Rogers, Mark Saxon, Jayson Stark, Katie Strang and Steve Wulf.

Four panelists — Mendoza, Doug Padilla, Rogers and Wulf — picked Zack Greinke to win the National League Cy Young Award.

CBS Sports

The five-member panel of experts at CBS Sports projects the D-backs to be, I guess for a lack of a better term, “OK” in 2016.

Two panelists, Mike Axisa and Matt Snyder project the Snakes to finish second in the National League West. Axisa has the Dodgers winning the division, while Snyder projects the Giants to prevail.

Snyder is the only one who sees the D-backs in the postseason, picking them to claim one of the NL’s two Wild Card spots with Pittsburgh claiming the other.

Manager Chip Hale got one vote for National League Manager of the Year. You guessed it, it’s from Snyder.

SI.com

The crew at Sports Illustrated is pretty lukewarm on the D-backs’ chances in 2016, ranking them as the 17th-best team in baseball heading into the season.

They project an 81-81 season — which would be the third such finish for Arizona since 2012 if they hit it on the head.

SI points out losing Ender Inciarte (traded to Atlanta in Shelby Miller deal) creates a big question mark defensively for a team they feel was average in the field in 2015.

As strong as that lineup is, Arizona is going to miss Ender Inciarte—who was part of the package sent to Atlanta for Miller—more than it realizes, as will the pitching staff. The speedy Inciarte made 536 plate appearances in one of the top two positions in the batting order last year, posting a .343 on-base percentage and scoring 70 runs from those spots. He was also an elite defender, and those combined contributions made him worth more than five Wins Above Replacement per baseball-reference.com.

In Inciarte’s place this season, the Diamondbacks will trot out fellow 25-year-old Yasmany Tomas, whose middling performance at the plate and brutal play in the field (both in the outfield and at third base) made him more than a win below replacement in 2015.

SI’s Ben Reiter is a believer in the D-backs. He picked them (presumably before A.J. Pollock broke his elbow Friday night) to claim a National League wild card spot. He’s also got Paul Goldschmidt claiming the Most Valuable Player Award.

Tom Verducci also has a closer look at the 2016 D-backs — in video form!

SB Nation

Grant Brisbee picks the Diamondbacks to finish third in what should be a loaded NL West, behind the Dodgers and Giants.

The writer lauds Arizona for the Greinke and Miller acquisitions right in the middle of career primes of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, but doesn’t like the rest of the roster.

It’s a shame, then, just how underwhelming the rest of the roster might be. Other than David Peralta, I’m not sure how many average players the Diamondbacks should count on, much less above-average players. There’s a path for them to get to 100 wins, easy, and it starts with the five players in the first two paragraphs. But to get there, they’ll need surprising contributions from unlikely sources, like Yasmany Tomas, Robbie Ray, and Jake Lamb, all young enough to develop, all enigmatic enough to disappoint. The entire roster is like that, right down to the #5 starter.

 MLB.com

Phil Rogers wrote a piece entitled ’10 bold predictions for the new year.’

One of his predictions is “The D-backs will upset the Dodgers and Giants to win the National League West.”

Arizona will enter the postseason trying to make it four years in a row that a team advances to the World Series one year after a losing season. This isn’t whimsy, nor is it a knock on the Giants (in an even year) or the Dodgers. Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock might be the best tandem of hitters in the Major Leagues, and the core of Goldschmidt, Pollock, Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller combined to produce 29.1 WAR last season. That’s the best from any group of four players currently on a team’s roster.

 ESPN Chalk

The Worldwide Leader has a special section devoted to gambling on their website and Joe Peta offered an extensive breakdown of all 30 MLB teams.

Bottom line: The Vegas over/under on Arizona wins in 2016 is set at 82. Peta advises those who like to bet to take the under.

For the purposes of projections, though, price matters, and I believe Arizona might need a lot of seven-run outbursts to outscore its opponents over the course of the season. Yet, at 82 wins, Vegas already has the Diamondbacks pegged as on over-.500 team. They opened at an eye-popping 84.5 in Reno. (Note to self: Buying a timeshare in Reno for February might have positive EV.) The division is still daunting, and it will not surprise me at all if Greinke posts his highest ERA since 2011, when he pitched in front of a bad Brewers defense. Give me the under.

Peta offered some interesting reasons why, starting with the expectations placed on Greinke.

For the Dodgers, Greinke pitched half his games in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the majors. Unfortunately, in switching employers, Greinke moves to Chase Field, which is just about as favorable for hitters as Chavez Ravine is for pitchers.

He also mentioned that Arizona catcher Welington Castillo was one of the worst in baseball at framing pitches or “stealing strikes” and Greinke’s catcher last year in L.A., Yasmani Grandal, was the best.

Not optimistic, but an interesting read nonetheless.

Fox Sports

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is one of the foremost baseball experts in the country, but doesn’t believe anybody should pay that much attention to his preseason predictions.

That said, he’s got the D-backs as the 13th-best team in baseball heading into the season. He’s also very particular about when Arizona falls out of the race.

Stewart, La Russa trade another top pick at deadline, but team fades after Braves’ Swanson delivers crushing homer off Miller in late August.

Hey, if nothing else, this means the D-backs are in contention for most of the season!

USA Today

The staff picks the D-backs to finish third in the NL West behind the Giants and Dodgers.

They also recognize Miller as the most pivotal player in the division.

The D-Backs went all in this winter, expending $206 million for ace Zack Greinke, and emptying their farm system for Miller. There’s virtually no concern that Greinke will have a monster year, but Miller has the spotlight on him after the D-backs traded outfielder Ender Inciarte; shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first pick in the 2015 draft; and pitching prospect Aaron Blair. All for a guy who went 6-17 last season for the Atlanta Braves, although he had rotten luck and terrible run support while yielding a 3.02 ERA in 205 1/3 innings. If he struggles in a new environment, the D-backs are in big trouble.

Yahoo! Sports Big League Stew

Like most other outlets, BLS projects a three-horse race in the NL West, with the D-backs one of those horses.

The boldest offseason in baseball belonged to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who surprised everybody by shelling out $206.5 million to sign Zack Greinke.

That’s what you do when you have one of the best hitters in the game — hello, Paul Goldschmidt — and recognize that your window to win is right now. So the D-backs added Greinke, traded for Shelby Miller and went into full win-now mode.

It’s a tough path ahead in the NL West, as both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants figure to be contenders. The D-backs could be too, but there can’t be many missteps if they want to keep pace. A.J. Pollock needs to follow-up his breakout year. Patrick Corbin needs a return to pre-Tommy John form. Yasmany Tomas needs to take a step forward.

If all those things happen, we could be talking about the D-backs in September. And last September, that didn’t seem so possible. That’s what a bold offseason will do.

Yahoo! also deems number-four starter Rubby De La Rosa as the “key player” for the D-backs, pointing out that while his stuff has always been highly-regarded, time is running out for the right-hander to prove he’s a formidable force in a rotation.

While the Diamondbacks rotation fades after the top three, De La Rosa could be pushed by former top prospect Archie Bradley if he struggles again. The Diamondbacks are clearly in win now mode, and probably won’t hesitate to replace a struggling De La Rosa, particularly if Bradley gets off to a hot start.

Mike Oz is the most ardent believer in Arizona on Yahoo!’s baseball staff. He’s got the D-backs as a Wild Card team (but losing to Pittsburgh in the one-game playoff) and Goldschmidt winning the MVP and NL home run crown.

Mark Townsend labels Yasmany Tomas as the NL’s breakout hitter, while Jeff Passan picks third baseman Jake Lamb in that category. Both Oz and Passan have listed Patrick Corbin as the senior circuit’s breakout pitcher.

Forbes

Forbes named Greinke the D-backs’ best addition and Inciarte their greatest loss.

The greatest asset for the D-backs according to Forbes is their youth, prominently featuring the 28-year-old Goldschmidt. The greatest liability was listed as Yasmany Tomas.

Forbes has modest expectations for the 2016 season.

That said, with a combination of spending big money on an as-needed basis and picking and choosing which players to either extend or trade for, perhaps Arizona can make a run at the NL Wild Card this year and take one step closer to adding another World Series banner alongside the one earned in 2001.

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