I know a lot of Arizona baseball fans are tired of people comparing this year’s ball club to last year’s NL West title team. Many are focused on how the club is doing this year, today, now. I completely agree with these sentiments and view points, as we can’t focus so much on past success given our current struggles and obstacles this season. However, with a somewhat slow start to the season, I can’t help but look back a year and see what it was that we were doing that made us such a successful, and feared team in the division.
Everyone had high expectations for these Arizona Diamondbacks (30-31), many of which picked the club to take the division. These expectations were made with good reason, as the team had an improbable run to capture the NL West title last season, we came into the spring with one of the stronger bullpens in the league (on paper), we were absolutely dominant in one-run games last year, and we had pretty much every vital piece to last year’s squad coming back this year. In addition to that, the club picked up Trevor Cahill from Oakland to strengthen the rotation, and added left-handed slugger Jason Kubel (possibly the best free-agent signing thus far) via free agency to add depth the squad.
So far, much of last year’s magic has not transferred over to this season. The good news is, we really aren’t far off of last year’s pace at this point of the season. Through 61 games, this year’s club is 30-31, thanks to a recent spark in the offense during a 7-2 homestand. Through 61 games last season, the team was 33-28, only three games up of our current position. This was thanks to an impressive hot streak from May 14th-June 5th where the club went 18-5.
Although we aren’t on that type of hot streak right now, the club has played much better baseball the last couple weeks and have shown signs of that competitiveness that we saw all of last season. Here are some reasons to remain hopeful:
1. It’s a long season. 162 games to be exact. The team still has 101 games left on their schedule, so we have plenty of time to catch up with those first place Dodgers.
2. Extra Wild Card Team. Major League Baseball capitalized on an unbelievable post season last year and added an additional wild card team to each league’s postseason makeup. Now the two wild card teams in each league will have to play each other for a chance to advance in the postseason.
3. We’ve Done it Before. Pretty self explanatory. We did it last year. The team knows it can be done, so important games down the stretch shouldn’t rattle their cages.
4. Streaky Club. As seen this season, our players tend to go on hot streaks and cold streaks. It looked like the whole club started off the season going ice-cold at the plate. We’ve seen signs of heating up from Paul Goldcshmidt and Kubel as of late. If Miguel Montero and Justin Upton decide to join the hit parade, this could be a very dangerous club. At his best, Upton is an MVP candidate no doubt, but is only batting .245 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.
5. Division Injury Status. The D-backs have a great opportunity to make up ground within the division while some the most feared hitters in the division are battling some injuries.
*The L.A. Dodgers are without the service of their MVP candidate for a few more weeks as Matt kemp sits out with a hamstring. The team has also lost their most productive starter this season when Ted Lilly hit the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
*Troy Tulowitzki has been out of the Rockies’ lineup for the past couple weeks battling a left groin strain. He started a Triple-A rehab assignment today against the Reno Aces and had to pull himself from the game, as it appeared he may have re-aggravated his groin. No announcement has been made regarding the injury or it’s severity.
*Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants just came off of the DL after missing time for a fractured left hamate bone in his wrist. Having experienced a similar injury in high school, I can tell you this is a very difficult injury to overcome. The wrist plays such an essential role in a player’s swing, and the possibility of it lingering or affecting his performance is high. On top of that, their two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is pitching like a number five starter, posting a 2-7 record, and a 6.00 ERA.
*Aside from all the negative injury news, the D-backs are happy to receive some happy news on the injury front, as Stephen Drew has been playing with the clubs Triple-A affiliate in Reno, and is expected to rejoin the club by the end of the month.
6. Team Depth. Kevin Towers was heavily criticized when he added Kubel in the offseason, creating what some would say is a log jam in the outfield. Simply put, Towers wanted depth. I’m calling it the best offseason pickup of any team, as no other player has been more valuable to his team thus far in the season than Kubel has. Batting around .300 and taking the place of injured Chris Young when he battled his DL stint, Kubel has fit in nicely in the middle of the lineup. In addition to Kubel, the steam has a very deep pitching staff, and young gun slingers (Bauer and Skaggs) waiting for their chance.
With all that said, the club has a golden opportunity to make some magic happen. We have the right pieces in place, it’s just a matter of executing on a day to day basis. The players just need to relax, have fun playing the game they love, and take it one game at a time. With 101 games still to be played, there is still a lot of season left, and we need to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to be in contention come August and September. Either way, it should be fun to see what these boys can do in the dog days of summer.
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