2009 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS PREVIEW
The Diamondbacks went 82-80 last year but in many regards it wasn’t a disappointing year. The Diamondbacks featured a young team and many of the players were involved in their first pennant race. So despite falling short of a playoff berth, the young Diamondbacks prepared themselves well for the future.
To a man, the Diamondbacks will tell you that the future is now. Virtually the entire team is back a year older and better. Despite losing longtime star Randy Johnson to free agency, the D’Backs are well positioned to make a run at the National League West crown.
The starting rotation in Phoenix is very good. Brandon Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA, 34 starts, 226 IP, 183 K last year) was the 2006 Cy Young Award winner and is the staff ace. Danny Haren (16-8, 3.33 ERA, 33 starts, 216 IP, 206 K) has the ability and track record to call himself an ace as well. Doug Davis (16-8, 4.32 ERA, 26 starts) battled through a cancer diagnosis last year to have an excellent season and should again be solid. The Diamondbacks also dipped into free agency and brought in former Angel Jon Garland (14-8, 4.90 ERA). Expect Garland to be a solid replacement for Johnson this summer. The fifth spot is up for grabs between young Max Scherzer (0-4, 3.05 ERA, 7 starts down the stretch) and Yusmeiro Petit (305, 4.31 ERA, 19 games, 8 starts). The top end talent is excellent in the rotation and if either Scherzer or Petit can provide consistency in the fifth spot then Arizona has the division’s best rotation.
The Diamondbacks also bid farewell to last year’s closer, Brandon Lyon, in free agency. In his place, the D’Backs will expect Chad Qualls (4-8, 2.81ERA, 77 Gm, 9 SV in 17 SVO) to carry the load. Qualls should be solid but veteran Scott Schoeneweis (2-6, 3.34 ERA, 73 Gm) could also be called upon. If Arizona can find consistency in slamming the door on their opposition then they have a very good bullpen.
The Diamondbacks have a good infield. First baseman Chad Tracy (.267, 8 HR, 39 RBI, .308 OBP in 88 games) had some injury issues and will give the team a boost with a healthy year. Second baseman Felipe Lopez (.283, 6 HR, 46 RBI, .343 OBP) will get on base consistently and score plenty of runs while shortstop Stephen Drew (.291, 21 HR, 67 RBI, .333 OBP) should continue to develop his power swing. At third base, Mark Reynolds (.239, 28 HR, 97 RBI, .320 OBP) will look to improve his average but should provide very good run production. Catcher Chris Snyder (.237, 16 HR, 64 RBI, .348 OBP) also hits with some pop. Expect the Diamondbacks to have a very solid infield this year.
The outfield is also quite good. Leftfielder Connor Jackson (.300, 12 HR, 75 RBI, .376) began to come into his own last season and should be even better this year. Centerfielder Chris Young (.248, 22 HR, 85 RBI, .315 OBP) and right fielder Justin Upton (.250, 15 HR, 42 RBI, .353 OBP) both struggled a bit last year but both are very good young players and it would not be a stretch to see both improve their numbers dramatically this season. Veteran Eric Byrnes (.209, 6 HR, 23 RBI, .272 OBP) should provide depth behind all three starters. This outfield is still very young and all three starters have the potential to have a very good season.
OUTLOOKThe Diamondbacks have great starting pitching and a very solid bullpen. There is no question that this staff can get the Snakes to the postseason. Their offense is young but developing well and will almost certainly have a stronger year than last season. While it is a concern that their leading RBI man from last year boasted a .239 average, expect their young starts like Drew, Jackson, Young, and Upton to produce beyond their 2008 level. All the pieces are in place for the Diamondbacks to win between 85 and 90 games this year. Will that be enough to win the division? If the Diamondbacks don’t manage to resign Manny Ramirez, then the answer is most likely yes. Even if the Diamondbacks sign Manny, expect the Diamondbacks to find themselves in the thick of a pennant race again this September.
By Matt Baxendell
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