PHOENIX -- The Diamondbacks came up a few games short of their chief baseball officer's goal, but that isn't keeping them from moving toward the next goal.

Tony La Russa a year ago said he expected the D-backs to be a .500 team in 2015 -- which sounded like a longshot coming off an MLB-worst 64-win season. The D-backs won 15 more games this season, two shy of breaking even, and set their sights on the playoffs.

While the Astros, who had baseball's worst record in back-to-back seasons two year ago and improved by 16 games this year, celebrated their wild-card berth Sunday in the visitor's clubhouse at Chase Field, D-backs players talked of a postseason appearance of their own as soon as next year.

On Monday, D-backs brass shared that sentiment.

"The sky's the limit," manager Chip Hale said after his players cleaned out their lockers and vanished from the ballpark for the off-season. "Our goal is to get into the playoffs and make some noise.

"I do think, next year, we have a very good chance to compete to win our division."

General Manager Dave Stewart said he thinks the team "is close."

Much of the optimism stems from what the D-backs did offensively this season. Behind cornerstones Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock and emerging talents David Peralta, Ender Inciarte and Welington Castillo, the D-backs averaged the second most runs in the National League. Ever aggressive, they also stole the second most bases in the league.

"(Other teams) don't like to play us, I know that," Pollock said. "A lot of pitchers are like, 'Ugh, we have to play the Diamondbacks. We have to face their hitters.' That's always a good thing. But it's not about the praise. It's about finishing the job. We want to make the playoffs and we're going to have to take the next step next year."

The D-backs also showed they play defense. They led all of baseball with 63 runs saves on defense, according to Baseball Reference. Inciarte, Nick Ahmed, Goldschmidt and Pollock all ranked in the top 25 in the majors individually.

Barring a falloff in any of those areas, improving the pitching is what will get the franchise over the hump. The D-backs ranked ninth in the NL in ERA, including the fifth-worst rotation ERA, and on Monday let go pitching coach Mike Harkey.

"We have to do better with our starting rotation," Hale said.

Whether that involves signing a high-priced, top-of-the-rotation free agent, trading for one or standing pat remains to be seen. La Russa and Stewart were tight-lipped on their off-season plans.

"We are close to playing meaningful games in September. How realistic to contending to play in October" La Russa said. "I think there's pieces that hopefully will fall in place in winter. But I don't think it's as simple as our pitching."

Stewart labeled the trio of Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray as the organization's "top three," virtually assuring them rotation spots. Who joins them could come in-house, from a long list of arms who made starts this season as well as relievers Daniel Hudson and Randall Delgado.

"With our starters, if we go into next year with the same group, we're going to be a lot better than we were this year," Hale said. "From experience, one, and two, from things were going to work on this off-season and in spring training. Do I think we need to go out and sign a guy or make a trade? That's not my position. My position is to get the guys I have in-house better and that's what we're going to do."

Follow Chris Gabel on Twitter