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MLB Preview – Arizona Diamondbacks

Yeah, baseball season! You’ve probably been reading all sort of previews from the experts, but they are not half as entertaining as the kool-aid induced thoughts from the fans who love their teams the most.

Expectations Last season was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year in preparation for a bright future, but a young Diamondbacks team went all the way to the National League Championship Series. This year they won’t sneak up on anyone, but their expectations are much higher. The pitching will certainly be solid, the question will be, can the young bats produce consistently and show improvement over last year?

What’s New in 2008?
Added: Dan Haren, Chad Qualls, Chris Burke
Departed: Jose Valverde, Tony Clark, Carlos Quentin, Livan Hernandez, and along with him, the profits of all Phoenix-area fast food franchises

Reasons for Optimism Pitching, pitching, pitching. The 1-2 punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren is one of the best in baseball. If the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, those two will carry them far. Add in Doug Davis, who was 8-2 after the All-Star Break last season, and Micah Owings, who also pitched solidly down the stretch while showing off a bat that would make many wonder if he should be playing every day, and you have a solid rotation. Oh yeah, and there’s also some guy named Randy Johnson who is trying to get back to his old form. The Diamondbacks won’t expect much from the Big Unit, but if he can produce anything at all, he will make the rotation even stronger.

Nobody will be expecting the Diamondbacks’ hitters to be the stronger side of the team, but they will be expected to pull their weight. While the pitching can take them far, it is time for the rookies from the past couple of seasons to step up and be leaders. Eric Byrnes carried the team last season and will certainly be the veteran leader once again. Chris Young nearly went 30-30 as a rookie last season (he finished with 32 home runs and 27 stolen bases). The power and speed are there, he just needs to get his bat on the ball more often and get on-base more consistently. Last season’s .237 batting average and .296 on-base-percentage will not cut it. Gold Glove 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson’s return to the lineup after his thumb injury last season will solidify the team both out in the field and in the batter’s box. Justin Upton, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Chris Snyder and Mark Reynolds are the other youngsters who will be expected to contribute more. All were great at times during last season, but their flashes of brilliance need to become more frequent if the lineup is going to avoid prolonged slumps.

Reasons Fans Will Be Checking Out the Hooters Girls at the Outfield Pool Rather Than Watching the Game

If you are big on things like expected win-loss records, then the Diamondbacks overachieved by a large margin last season. Despite winning 90 games, they were outscored by 20 runs. Their expected record was 79-83, which was close to what most people predicted they would actually do. Ultimately, only one thing matters – winning games. The big question is, will the Diamondbacks be able to win 1-run games like they did last season (32-20 record)? Most likely, no.

One of the biggest reasons for last year’s great record in close games was the bullpen. The starters gave the bullpen small leads and they held them, or hitters managed to scrape together late runs to give the team close wins. The centerpiece of last year’s bullpen, the quirky Jose Valverde is gone. The Diamondbacks sold high on him during the offseason, which is not necessarily a bad thing given Valverde’s past inconsistency and the typical shelf-life of your average closer. Brandon Lyon will be expected to take his consistency as a set-up man last season into the closer role. The gamble of getting rid of Valverde could work out just fine, or it could completely mess up the bullpen that was great last season.

Best case, the rotation is solid, the hitters progress. But if there is a major drop-off after Webb & Haren and the rest of the starters, or if the young lineup does not improve or regresses, the Diamondbacks will fall far short of their expectations. The lineup was prone to streaks last season. Too many slumps will doom their chances, no matter how good the pitching is.

Projected Lineup/Rotation

CF Chris Young
2B Orlando Hudson
1B Conor Jackson
LF Eric Byrnes
3B Mark Reynolds
SS Stephen Drew
RF Justin Upton
C Chris Snyder

Brandon Webb
Dan Haren
Randy Johnson
Doug Davis
Micah Owings

Brandon Lyon, closer
Doug Slaten, LH setup
Tony Pena/Chad Qualls, RH setup

Five Bold Predictions
1. NL West Champions
2. Brandon Webb wins his 2nd Cy Young, Dan Haren finishes top 5 in voting
3. Chris Young joins the 40-40 Club
4. Randy Johnson either goes the entire year without going on the DL, or he will retire before the end of the season. Even one injury could mean the end for the future Hall of Famer.
5. Eric Byrnes goes on the DL at least once due to running into a wall/tree/teammate/parked car

Official Kool-Aided Predictions
1st in the NL West
Beat the Cubs again in the NL Division series
*adds Everclear to the Kool-Aid* World Series Champions

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