Who are the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks? Expectations couldn’t have been higher for this team coming into the season. Through the first 96 games, the team has struggled to reach those lofty hopes. At times things seemed to be clicking and all signs indicated that a run wasn’t far off.
Unfortunately, something has always popped up to derail any prolonged success and disappointing stretches have outweighed the positives. Just when the D-backs had positioned themselves to creep back into things, they were swept at home against the Padres. Then after an inexcusable sweep in Chicago, the D-backs had a chance to salvage the road trip by winning the series in Cincinnati, just to blow a 6-run lead in the most disappointing loss of the season.
Despite the inconsistencies, underachievement, trade rumors and disappointment, the D-backs have managed to battle back to .500 and are still within striking distance of the Giants in the NL West and remain in contention for a wild card spot. The D-backs are finally taking care of business at home and beating teams they’re supposed to beat. If that trend can continue, the D-backs can keep things tight and play some meaningful baseball into August and September.
Put your hands together for Jason Kubel
If you’ve got a fever and the only prescription in more Kubel, then you’ve had plenty of medication to remedy even the most persistent headache. In a season characterized by the underachievement of key players, Jason Kubel has been an unquestioned bright spot. Kubel has made plays defensively throughout the season that answered questions about his rumored defensive deficiencies. Now he has been letting his bat do the talking. Kubel leads the team with 21 home runs and leads the National League with 71 RBI. He has picked up Justin Upton time after time and has established himself as the most feared bat in the lineup.
Upton trade talks say a lot
At this point it sounds more and more like Justin Upton isn’t going anywhere. At least not right now. Regardless, the trade talks have been surprising, distracting and speak volumes to how disappointed management has been thus far regarding individuals and the team as a whole. Upton has always been one of the few players on the untouchable list – the short list of players that the team would never consider moving.
Upton was an MVP candidate last year and is supposed to be the cornerstone and future of the franchise. Hard to imagine things changing so quickly. There is no question that Upton has fallen well short of projected numbers, but trading him would verify a lack of confidence that he’ll ever reach his full potential.
Mark your calendars for upcoming promos at Chase Field
July 28 – Justin Upton Silver Slugger bobble head giveaway to first 20,000 fans courtesy of Pepsi
July 29 – Back-to-School Backpack giveaway to first 5,000 kids courtesy of Cox Communications
Following a successful home stand, the D-backs have found themselves in legitimate pennant contention. The once insurmountable Dodgers lead has been trimmed to a mere five games. For most of the season, the math hasn’t been in the D-backs favor. The D-backs have struggled to regain their mojo from last season, while the Dodgers got off to an unexpectedly hot start. Even the most optimistic fan could see that the uphill climb may be too much to conquer.
Nonetheless, the D-backs continued to plug away and appear to have found that missing spark. The Dodgers on the other hand have cooled off considerably and come down to earth. The Dodgers have lost six of seven, while the D-backs have won five of six and are fresh off a three-game-sweep of the Cubs.
Upton on the verge
Last week was an interesting one for the the D-backs offense. There is no question that the D-backs need Justin Upton to live up to his potential if they are going to contend for a division title.
However, it was Aaron Hill whose bat lead the team during the home stand. Hill collected hit after hit throughout the week and hit for the cycle on Monday, but what happened on Tuesday may have been even more eye-opening. With two outs and runners on second and third, the Mariners intentionally walked Hill to face Upton with the bases loaded. Upton has MVP talent and should be one of the most feared bats in the big leagues. Like he has done much of the season, Upton responded by striking out. It didn’t take long for Upton to redeem himself.
On Wednesday, with a base open and no outs, Hill drew another walk. This time, Upton responded with a mammoth three-run homer. Fans have been waiting patiently for him to respond in a big situation. Maybe this is exactly what he needed to break out of the season-long slump.
The D-backs hit six home runs in the game on Wednesday tying a franchise record. The sixth was an inside-the-park variety courtesy of Ryan Roberts.
Trevor Bauer is expected to start the game on Thursday in Atlanta. This marks one of the most highly anticipated pitching debuts in franchise history. Bauer would also be slated to make his home debut next Tuesday against the Padres.
Wade Miley continues to impress and is the frontrunner to represent the team in the All-Star game. Miley has been pitching like and ace while Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have struggled to reach expectations.
Mark your calendars for upcoming promos at Chase Field
July 4: D-backs 4th of July t-shirt giveaway to first 20,000 fans; Fireworks Night presented by Gila River Casinos, Mysteryball to benefit Pastime for Patriots.
The D-backs open a four-game series in Miami on Friday, kicking off a 10-game east coast road trip. Maybe the change of scenery will lead to increased productivity. The D-backs have lost three straight series at home and finished the home stand with only three victories in 10 tries. The negatives and question marks clearly outweigh the positives from the recent series. Pitching, hitting, injuries and even base running can all be blamed for the losses. The team will need to get back to fundamentals in order to get back on the right track. Getting healthy wouldn’t hurt either.
Reasons for optimism
A few players have stepped up recently giving fans reason for optimism moving forward. Wade Miley made a spot start on Monday night against the Phillies, filling in for injured starter Daniel Hudson. Miley got the win, allowing only two hits in six shutout innings. Miley will likely make at least one more start while Hudson is out and would be a potential replacement for Josh Collmenter if his early season struggles continue. Justin Upton has continued to play through a nagging thumb injury that’s at least partially to blame for his relatively slow start. Upton finally tallied his first homer of the season this week and appears to be getting healthier each day. The D-backs clearly need his bat to warm up, especially while Chris Young is out of the lineup.
Kubel proving to be valuable addition
When the D-backs announced the signing of Jason Kubel in the off season, skeptics questioned if the move was a mistake. The D-backs already appeared to be set at outfield prior to making the move and signing Kubel likely meant sending Gerardo Parra, fresh off his first Gold Glove season, to a platoon role. It appeared as though the organization had made a decision to sacrifice some defense for an increase in offensive potential. So far, Kubel has exceeded expectations defensively. He leads the majors with five outfield assists and has also started to produce offensively after a slow start. Kubel is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak.
D-backs bit by the injury bug
The increase in outfield depth came into play way sooner than anticipated when Chris Young landed on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury. Depth at starting pitcher has been tested as well with Daniel Hudson on the DL. Last season the D-backs were lucky to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. With the exception of losing Stephen Drew partway through the season. If April is any indication, this season will be a different story.
The season got off to an amazing start with a three-game sweep against the Giants, sending an early statement that last year was no fluke. The D-backs then moved on to San Diego and opened the series with a win. The D-backs entered the game Wednesday as the only remaining undefeated team in the majors. Clinging to a one-run lead in the 8th inning, it looked as though the unbeaten streak may continue for another day. Unfortunately on this night the magic was on the side of the Padres as Chris Denorfia launched a game-winning two-run homer. The D-backs responded with a win on Thursday to claim the series victory.
The D-backs suffered difficult losses in the first two games over the weekend in Colorado. On Friday night the Rockies battled back erasing a four-run deficit and ultimately came away with the victory. Saturday’s loss was even more difficult to swallow. The game was interrupted by a lengthy rain delay in the 4th inning. At the time the D-backs were trailing 5-1. After the delay the D-backs battled back and eventually took the lead and appeared headed to an impressive come-from-behind victory.
With the D-backs leading by one with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, D-backs closer J.J. Putz squared off against D-back killer Todd Helton. Helton jumped on an inside pitch and blasted a majestic shot a mile high into the raindrops and night sky. The ball ended up soaring over the right-field wall just inside the foul pole. As Helton rounded the bases and the Rockies celebrated, the deflated D-backs knew they had let one slip away. Coming back out on Sunday afternoon and trying to avoid the sweep would be a difficult task after such a draining defeat. Fortunately, that’s exactly what they did. The D-backs got an early boost when Chris Young connected on a two-run shot in the first inning. The D-backs were able to maintain a comfortable lead behind a strong performance from starter Trevor Cahill.
What’s coming up this week?
It’s important for the D-backs to forget about the tough losses in Colorado and just focus on the task at hand. The D-backs play their next ten games at home, (starting with last night’s 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates). After the three-game series with the Pirates, the Atlanta Braves will be in town for four games over the weekend, followed by a three-game series against the Phillies to close out the home stand.
The D-backs begin the week with a 6-3 record. Slightly disappointing to drop a few winnable games, but that’s just the nature of the sport. Overall, there’s nothing wrong with being 6-3. That’s a great start for anyone.
Chris Young is leading the team in home runs, RBIs and batting average. Obviously it’s great to get the early contributions from CY. Especially considering Justin Upton has gotten off to a relatively slow start.
It’ll be interesting to see how long of a leash Kirk Gibson will give Josh Collmenter. Heading into the season many experts questioned whether Collmenter was a better option than many of the younger starters in the organization. After his first two starts, Collmenter has by far the highest ERA among starters. It may be too early in the season to start making changes and questioning decisions. Besides, numbers can easily get inflated in April.
The Dodgers are off to an impressive 9-1 start. Meanwhile, it appears as though the Giants are facing life without closer Brian Wilson. He is dealing with elbow issues and is likely facing season-ending surgery.
When last we saw them, the D-backs were coming off an impressive National League West title and were only a few plays away from extending their playoff series with the Milwaukee Brewers. They definitely demonstrated that they belonged in the playoffs and would have matched up well against the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Considering last year’s success and the moves made so far this off-season, the Diamondbacks will be considered one of the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series this year.
If you are a fair weather fan and only inclined to jump on the bandwagon when things are going good, now if the time to climb aboard. The D-backs are built to win now, but also built to stay relevant for years to come. What more can you ask for? This may be the most realistic opportunity for the franchise to compete for a World Series Championship since the days of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
Retention and Addition
With the addition of Trevor Cahill and the re-signing of Joe Saunders, the D-backs have arguably their most complete rotation heading into a season. And that doesn’t even factor in the prospects that are capable of making an immediate impact if called on to play in the majors.
It was nice to see the D-backs retain newcomers Aaron Hill and John McDonald after the season. Both players contributed down the stretch, Hill will be counted on to fill the void at second and McDonald can be a key to the teams success this year if Stephen Drew struggles after off-season surgery. The health of Stephen Drew is one of the few question marks heading into the season.
Although the move likely sends Gerardo Parra into a platoon situation, the signing of Jason Kubel could prove to be a valuable acquisition. He has proven power and could really blossom playing everyday at hitter-friendly Chase Field. Having that consistent power from the left side of the plate should be a great fit, sandwiched between Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of the lineup. Parra’s defense will be missed, but hopefully some increased offensive production can offset any defensive shortcomings.
The success of the 2011 season should translate into increased anticipation to begin the 2012 campaign. For those that can’t wait until Spring Training gets underway or want to get up close and personal, the Diamondbacks 8th Annual FanFest is the perfect solution. FanFest is a free event held at Chase Field and gives fans access to players, coaches and the broadcast team. It’s a great way to interact with your favorite players and get an early glimpse at rising starts. FanFest will be held this Saturday, February 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Spring is in the air
Spring Training will take a different meaning this year. In recent years, Spring Training may have been looked at as a barometer for how well the team would compete in the coming year. There were obvious position battles and management hoped the pitching rotation would come together. This year, the rotation and opening day roster are more concrete. There’s always welcomed competition and you never know who will step up and impress, while others inevitably fall off the map. But for the most part, the plan will be to keep everyone healthy, get some reps and prepare to pursue back-to-back division championships.