Tuesday, March 18, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Arizona Diamondbacks

A look back: The Diamondbacks took everyone by surprise and found a way to get to the playoffs as the National League West champions. That comes mainly off the strength of young hitting and good pitching. If the D-Backs can keep their players healthy and avoiding a slump after big years, they are the team to beat in the NL West.

Positives on the field: Arizona got to where it is based mostly on the strength of Brandon Webb's strong arm. But the Diamondbacks weren't a one-man staff last year, and won't be this year. The addition of Dan Haren ensures that Arizona will have two very good options at the top of the lineup. Randy Johnson is old, but as a #3 pitcher, he's nice to have around, and has come a long way from the kid who used to blow up trash cans in Seattle in the early 1990's. Doug Davis and Micah Owings are capable in the back end of the rotation, making it a big Arizona strength.

On the other side, the hitters are young and talented. Chris Young and Eric Byrnes are both very quick, and the D-Backs' non-speed guys have a lot of potential. If their potential is on display, the Diamondbacks are going to be a serious contender.

Negatives on the field: The hitters didn't quite live up to their potential last year. Conor Jackson didn't produce much in the way of power, Stephen Drew had a very weak year, Mark Reynolds had trouble adjusting to not swinging at the first pitch, the list continues. The Diamondbacks were outscored by 10 runs by their opponents last year. That suggests that opponents managed to bunch their runs into games where Arizona had trouble scoring, or that the pitching made up for the hitting's struggles. Most likely it is the latter.

On the pitching side, Jose Valverde is very replaceable, but can Brandon Lyon be the guy who does replace him? If he is, there is likely an improvement from Valverde, who got saves but only had one really strong year in the role. If he's not, the D-Backs will regret losing Valverde.

Outlook: With so many young players, the Diamondbacks are a difficult team to try to predict. But one must be made, and the feeling here is that the expectations that exist now will not hamper the team as it tries to go two steps further than it did last year. Only the Diamondbacks' lack of offense if it short-circuits again will be responsible for that.

Projected finish: 1st in NL West, lose to Mets in NLDS. Season opener is March 31 against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. Diamondbacks home opener is April 7 against Los Angeles at Chase Field.

Spring base: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. The team shares the stadium with the Chicago White Sox, and plays games in both Tucson and Phoenix.

Fan of the team? Check out AZ Snake Pit, the Diamondbacks fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads down I-10 to Houston and takes a visit to the Houston Astros, who are actually just two years removed from the World Series.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Rise Against.

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