5 Reasons Why the Arizona Diamondbacks Can Repeat as NL West Champions in 2012
The Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68 in 2011) surprised everybody last season when they snuck up on the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants. Many experts thought the Giants would snap out of their funk. Some were even waiting for a late run by the Colorado Rockies, but it was the second half push from the D’backs that left the rest of the NL West in the dust.
Arizona proved to the baseball world that their team was a force to be reckoned with in 2011.
Here are five reasons why the D’backs could repeat as division champions...and it wouldn’t surprise anyone this time around.
5. Kirk Gibson's Leadership
As a player, Kirk Gibson won an MVP award and a World Series title in both the American and National Leagues.
He’s best known for his only plate appearance in the 1988 World Series. Gibson, who injured both legs in the NLCS of that year, hit a two-run pinch-hit home run off of Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley. He could barely walk, but he used whatever strength he had left to limp around the bases after he muscled one over the fence at Dodger Stadium. Gibson’s Los Angeles Dodgers won the game 5-4, and the series 4-1.
Gibson brings the same blue collar work ethic and grind-it-out attitude when he manages the Diamondbacks. In his first full season as Arizona’s manager, Gibson lead the D’backs to their first division title since 2007, when most people expected them to end up in last place for a third straight year. This impressive turnaround won Gibson the 2011 Manager of the Year Award.
Under Gibson, the Diamondbacks have looked more determined and more disciplined. They’ve had a talented young roster for a few years now. But it wasn’t until Gibson got there that it all came together. He ran a tighter ship, motivated the team, and gave the players direction. His leadership will serve the Diamondbacks well in the upcoming season.
4. Great Mix of Youth and Talent
The Diamondbacks have talented young impact players. Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, and Paul Goldschmidt are staples in the D’backs lineup at just 23 years of age. Chris Young, Stephen Drew, and Miguel Montero are all 26 years old. These players are in the prime of their careers, ensuring that the Diamondbacks will contend not only this year, but for at least the next few years.
The oldest pitcher in the starting rotation for the D’backs is Joe Saunders at 29 years old. That means that their starters’ arms will still be ready to go at the end of the season, even after logging a lot of innings.
Throughout the entire season, the youth factor will help Arizona bring the energy night in and night out.
3. The Most Underrated Pitching Staff in the League
When MLB analysts rank the best pitching staffs in the league, the Arizona Diamondbacks never appear in any of those lists. This upcoming season is a chance for the D’backs to showcase their pitching prowess, and show the league why they deserve to be recognized.
Diamondbacks No.1 starter Ian Kennedy (2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 2011) is as good as anyone in the league. He’s the cornerstone of the D’backs rotation and he has great command of the strike zone. His 21-4 record and 24 quality starts last year garnered Cy Young consideration. In short, Kennedy is the real deal.
Daniel Hudson turned in an impressive 16-win season last year with 21 quality starts. Consistency was a bit of an issue for him as he also recorded 12 losses. But to know exactly how good Hudson really is, it’s essential to actually watch him pitch.
This guy has nasty stuff. He mixes speeds well, making hitters look foolish with a sharp, biting slider and an improved changeup that he throws off of his live fastball. As good as Hudson is, he’s still loaded with potential. It’s scary to think how high his ceiling is.
Arizona’s big offseason acquisition, former Oakland Athletic Trevor Cahill, bolstered the team’s already stout rotation. Cahill had a promising start in 2011 with six wins to start the season. He ended up having a down year overall, going 12-14 with the struggling A’s. Cahill had his best year in 2010 when he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in 30 starts.
Cahill is a tough pitcher to face when he’s clicking on all cylinders. He hits his spots with regularity and he’ll always be a rough at-bat.
Young pitcher Josh Collmenter and veteran Joe Saunders round out the rest of the Diamondbacks formidable rotation.
Over the last two years, their pitching staff has improved by leaps and bounds. What was once a weak spot is now a strength of theirs. Upper management has done a tremendous job of patching up holes in the bullpen by acquiring good pitching. They have a tough middle reliever in Brad Ziegler, a lockdown closer in J.J. Putz (45 saves, 2.17 ERA in 2011), and a late-inning reliever who is also proven closer in Takashi Saito.
2. They're in the Giants' Heads
The San Francisco Giants played very well against the Diamondbacks in the first half of the season, defeating the snakes in seven of their first eight meetings. The Diamondbacks flipped the script on the Giants, as they ended up winning eight of the last 10 games against their foes from the Bay Area.
Granted, the Giants had a depleted roster with key losses that included star catcher Buster Posey and starting second baseman Freddy Sanchez. But nonetheless, the Diamondbacks got hot in the second half and their dominance of the Giants ignited their playoff push.
Continued success against their division rival will make Arizona a serious threat to win the division crown once again.
1. They Can Flat out Hit
There is no denying that the Diamondbacks are one of the top hitting teams in all of baseball. Justin Upton lead the way for this high-powered offense in 2011 by hitting .289 while putting up career numbers in home runs (31), RBI (88), and OBP (.369). Upton is also a viable threat on the base paths as he stole 21 bases on the year.
The D’backs received solid offensive performances throughout their lineup. Their best hitters from last year included outfielder Chris Young (.236 AVG, 20 HR, 71 RBI), second baseman Ryan Roberts (.249 AVG, 19 HR, 65 RBI), and catcher Miguel Montero (.282 AVG, 18 HR, 86 RBI).
Overall, the Diamondbacks don’t hit for the highest average, but they get hits when it matters most (702 RBI as a team) and they have strong power hitting (172 HR as a team).
Chase Field is a hitter’s park. The Diamondbacks took full advantage of that by going 51-30 at home last season.
Arizona’s potent bats will help them win plenty of games. It will be interesting to see if the Diamondbacks can string together enough hits to win the division championship.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a talented roster. They certainly have the horses necessary to make another run at the NL West title. They’ve always been able to out-slug the competition. Now they have the pitching to back up those bats.
The Diamondbacks will be definitely be a fun team to watch this season.