The Arizona Diamondbacks are coming off their most successful season since 2007, finishing up with a 94-68 record and easily stole the NL West away from the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants who were eight games back.
Losing the NLCS to the Brewers in five games was certainly a quicker exit than the D-backs had hoped for, but with a new season on the horizon only one question remains.
Can Manager Kirk Gibson get his D-backs back into October in 2012 for a second year in a row?
Let’s have a look…
In order to stay a contender in the NL West the D-backs needed to solidify their starting rotation. The division is pitching heavy with the Giants and Dodgers, and the D-Backs’ run-of-the-mill but good rotation needed a boost. And trading for Oakland Athletics ace Trevor Cahill certainly gave them that, as he will compliment Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson nicely in the third spot. In 2011 Cahill finished with a 12-14 record, posting a 4.16 ERA, with 147 strikeouts and threw 207 innings in total but that is not the Cahill the D-backs are hoping to see. They want the Cahill who finished 18-8 in 2010, with a 2.97 ERA but the best bet is that he will fall somewhere in middle. Still, that is enough to make the D-backs rotation complete and better than they were in 2011.
Led by All-Stars Justin Upton and Miguel Montero, the D-backs already had an impressive offense in 2011 and all are coming back again. They did acquire Twins Jason Kubel to a 2-year, $15 million with an option for a third, which brings another lefty bat to the D-backs outfield. The signing presumably means that 24-year old Gerardo Parra is out of a job, which made little sense since Parra has hit 60 homers in his three seasons with the D-backs and won a Gold Glove in 2011. Regardless, having either guy as a back-up outfielder is not a bad thing and Kubel is coming off an injury from last season, which held him to play in just 99 games.
Last season the bullpen got better over time, and it features a dominant closer in JJ Putz who had 49 saves, with an ERA of 2.17 in 2011. And adding relievers Takashi Saito and Craig Breslow in the off-season only makes them better.
One foreseeable issue is the health of shortstop Stephen Drew, who is still on the mend from not only the broken ankle that ended his subpar 2011 season, but also surgery he needed for a sports hernia during the off-season. Drew is a great defender that the D-backs will be missing still at the start of the season. How long Drew will be on the DL is uncertain, but considering he is not even close to running the bases yet, you have to presume it will be a few weeks into the regular season.
Also, if the D-backs lose one of their five starting pitchers to injury the back-ups are prospects with zero big league experience. Yes…they have talented prospects but growing pains are almost inevitable and fact is that inexperience can be costly because good Major League hitters will take advantage of even the slightest mistake, as it is a whole different monster.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) Justin Upton is so good as a baseball you just cannot help but watch his stardom grow. Upton is a five-tool player who is just 24-years old, so that means his best is yet to come. In 2011 Upton was named to the All-Star team for the second time in his five-year career; he also took home his first Silver Slugger and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting but easily could have won it without any questions. Expect big things from Upton again in 2012 and with 31 home-runs, 39 doubles, 88 RBIs and 21 steals on last season the sky is the limit with endless possibilities.
The Diamondbacks were good enough to win the NL West in 2011, and are a lock to win it again in 2012.
The front office was very efficient during the off-season, as they plugged up any holes and gave themselves some insurance because no team is devoid of having injuries over the course of a season.
Barring no injuries or any off-the-field issues the Diamondbacks are heading into 2012 as the most solid team in the NL West.
The other teams in their division did squat to improve themselves. The only possible threat comes from the Giants who have one of the top three rotations in baseball but other than the return of Buster Posey the team is offensively anemic in comparison but expect them to be a lot closer than eight games back in 2012. Expect the Dodgers to be bigger nuisances, as the ownership drama will not dominate over the actual team like it did in 2011.
So, lets say the D-backs make it out of the NL West alive, that still leaves the question whether they are good enough to compete outside of the division come October?
In my opinion the answer is still no. I just don’t see them able to beat the Phillies or Cardinals when it counts. Also, keep in mind that the Marlins and Nationals got better too.
The D-backs should be an exciting group to watch, especially to see how the players handle being on a team with expectations now.
- D-backs have pitching to again rule West (msn.foxsports.com)
- Diamondbacks Spring Training: Gibson Frustrated With Big Loss; Cahill And Skaggs Struggle (arizona.sbnation.com)
- 5 Reasons Why the Arizona Diamondbacks Can Repeat as NL West Champions in 2012 (bleacherreport.com)
- Arizona’s Cahill struggles as Indians win 10-2 (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- D-backs acquire Cahill from A’s in 5-player trade (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Arizona’s Cahill struggles as Indians win 10-2 (boston.com)
- Running down the rosters: Arizona Diamondbacks (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)