PHOENIX (AP)The Arizona Diamondbacks were a dreadful baseball team in 2021, losing 110 games.

Fast forward one year later, and they were simply below average.

It doesn’t seem like much, but that 22-win improvement represents a huge step forward for the D-backs, who just finished a 74-88 season on Wednesday but have many reasons for optimism.

”In some ways, you need to walk before you can run,” Arizona general manager Mike Hazen said. ”I feel like that happened this year to some degree.”

The Diamondbacks were basically a .500 team during the second half of the season after they promoted several of the organization’s top prospects. That’s no small feat in a division that includes the 111-win Dodgers and big-spending Padres.

Young D-backs outfielders like Jake McCarthy, Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Stone Garrett all played well when they were promoted to the big club. Pitchers like Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson and Tommy Henry also had encouraging debuts.

Veterans like Josh Rojas and Christian Walker had good offensive seasons. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly won back-to-back NL Pitcher of the Month awards during the summer.

The plan is to keep the core together for better things in 2023.

”It was a big step forward from last year,” Rojas said. ”I think we left a lot on the table still, but we really started to come together in the second half of the year, bringing up a lot of young guys who contribute a lot to this team.

”I think we’re really close.”

The Diamondbacks aren’t celebrating another also-ran season, even though the organization appears to be pointed in the correct direction. Arizona is more than 20 years removed from their only World Series title in 2001 and the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017.

”Finishing with 74 wins and not playing October, I don’t look at it like, `Congratulations, we stunk less than we did last year,”’ Hazen said. ”I don’t have that mindset. I’ll never have that mindset.”

THE MADBUM DILEMMA

The D-backs signed lefty Madison Bumgarner to an $85 million, five-year deal before the 2020 season, hoping that the four-time All-Star could give some stability to an inexperienced rotation.

Three years into the deal, it hasn’t worked out.

Bumgarner finished with a 7-15 record and 4.88 ERA in 2022 and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll have a spot in the rotation next season. He’s still just 33 years old, so there’s still time for a late-career resurgence, but nothing in his performance has suggested that’s in the cards.

BRUTAL BULLPEN

The D-backs’ bullpen was a problem throughout much of the season.

Veteran closer Mark Melancon signed a $14 million, two-year deal during the offseason but failed to provide stability in the ninth inning. He had a 3-10 record, 4.66 ERA and lost his closer’s job midway through the season.

One of the few exceptions to the bullpen struggles was the emergence of lefty Joe Mantiply. The 31-year-old was the team’s lone All-Star representative and finished with a 2.85 ERA.

McCARTHY’S RISE

McCarthy’s playing time increased substantially after the D-backs dealt starting left fielder David Peralta to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline.

The 25-year-old took full advantage, becoming arguably the team’s best all-around player during the final two months. He hit .283 with eight homers, 43 RBIs and 23 stolen bases while playing about half the season.

MIDDLING MARTE

Ketel Marte looked like a future superstar three years ago, finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting after hitting .329 with 32 homers.

But the 28-year-old has struggled with hamstring injuries over the past two years and his production has dipped. He hit .240 with 12 homers, though he did finish among the league leaders with 42 doubles.

The D-backs expect him to be a middle of the order presence in the coming years. They signed him to a $76 million, five-year deal during spring training that keeps him with the franchise through at least 2027.

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