Arizona Diamondbacks: (70-92, Last Place – NL West in 2009):
What was supposed to be another stellar year in the supposedly-easy NL West turned into a wreck for the Snakes. Brandon Webb, their co-ace along with Dan Haren, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just four innings into the season. It was an uphill climb from there, and the D-Backs forgot their hiking boots.
The stumbles continued throughout the lost season, which included the firing of manager Bob Melvin on May 7, and the hiring of 35-year old, former Phillies backup A.J. Hinch. The switch was an effort to toss the team a life-raft, but it did not take and the Diamondbacks found themselves dead last in the West by October.
Chris Young, a former 30-homer guy, hit just above .200 and was sent down to the minors for a minute. It got so bad for ARZ that outfielder Conor Jackson, a .300-type hitter with decent power, was diagnosed with Valley Fever. Don’t know what it is? Look it up – it’s not your everyday illness. Even the Phillies got their shots in at the Snakes by taking 5-of-6 from the hapless Diamondbacks.
In a year of mistakes and misfortunes, Arizona had a few bright spots. Mark Reynolds became one of the premier power hitters in the National League by swatting 44 home runs and knocking in 102 runs in the middle of a bad lineup. Justin Upton just recently signed a six-year contract to stay in Arizona after he hit .300 with 26 bombs in 2009. At just 21, he’s one of the blossoming gifts of the game and has the tools to get better. In the pitching department, it was all about Dan Haren once again.
The perennial all-star was what he always is – solid- forcing his way into 14 wins and an ERA in the low-three’s. The guy struck out 223 while walking just 38, so control is his specialty. However, there was no controlling the awfulness of the D-Backs in 2009.
Here in Mid-March, not much looks different out in Phoenix. The biggest move was nabbing power righty Edwin Jackson from Detroit as the Tigers purged their roster, giving the D-Backs a formidable 1-2-3 top-of-the-rotation. That is, if Webb can get healthy. They did move developing fireballer Max Scherzer to get Jackson, who by the way was an AL All Star last season, but they got a bit older and wiser with the trade. Jackson should do quite well in the spacious NL West.
The offense looks the same, save for the pickup of Adam Laroche to play first base. He jumps in where Chad Tracy, Josh Whitesell, and Brandon Allen failed a year ago. Reynolds and Upton are the centerpieces, while Stephen Drew could use a nice bounce-back and new second baseman Kelly Johnson needs to provide some stability at another below-average position for Arizona.
The fact of the matter is, this season hinges on the health of Brandon Webb. If he can return to his all-star form, then the Diamondbacks could have just enough offense to go with the outstanding rotation. If not, they’ll be in for yet another downer in the desert.
We continue our MLB Previews with the Colorado Rockies coming up next.