Arizona Diamondbacks: 10 Early Signs They Can Dominate the NL West
With a 9-8 start through the first two weeks of the MLB season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are fourth in the NL West, behind the first-place Dodgers, the Giants and the Rockies—only the perpetually cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres own a worse record with their 5-12 mark.
Nonetheless, early returns on the Diamondbacks' season indicate Arizona may still come back to flourish in 2012, even dominating the division by late September, as they did in 2011.
The following 10 factors are early signs Arizona can dominate the NL West in 2012.
Arizona Already Holds an Advantage over San Francisco Giants
In addition to their come-from-behind NL West-winning performance in 2011, the Diamondbacks continue to hold a distinct advantage over the San Francisco Giants, having won 11 and lost just two games to the Giants since June of 2011.
From better head-to-head pitching to better head-to-head offense, for whatever reason, when these two teams have come together over the past 10 months, Arizona has overwhelmingly emerged the victor.
The Giants and Snakes next play on May 11, 2012, at Chase Field.
Arizona Is Best In—and Against—West
The Diamondbacks are presently 6-3 against other NL West clubs, which places them second to just the Los Angeles Dodgers and that club's 6-1 intra-divisional record. Compare that to the Giants' 2-4 mark and Colorado's 5-4 edge, and the D-Backs show great signs of promise in the NL West.
In a sport where division play reigns supreme—the Diamondbacks' 43-29 record against NL West foes in 2011 was tied with San Francisco for tops in the division—this statistic could prove extremely valuable as the season progresses and the Diamondbacks get farther into divisional play.
Resist Being Swept
Mind you, it's awfully early, though Arizona has yet to experience its first instance of being swept.
After sweeping San Francisco to open the 2012 season, Arizona has recorded at least one win in each subsequent series—against San Diego, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Philadelphia—demonstrating that the club has a propensity of avoiding the underside of an opposing broom.
Score Those Runs
Early on in this 2012 season, only two NL West teams have over 70 team RBI—the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and the fourth-place Diamondbacks.
When it comes to team home runs, the Diamondbacks lead the division with 19 four-baggers to Los Angeles' 15 and Colorado's 14 homers.
The D-Backs also know how to play small ball.
Through their first 17 contests, Arizona has stolen an NL West-high 15 bases, outpacing the Dodgers' 12, on the legs of Los Angeles speed-demon Dee Gordon's nine swipes—then again, Los Angeles has been caught an MLB-high 11 times, whereas Arizona has only been caught six times.
Arizona is playing fundamental baseball, while beginning to prosper from its power. Give the club time and Arizona will make its push for first place.
Surprising Pitching Depth: Wade Miley
How about that Wade Miley?
Admittedly not manager Kirk Gibson's first choice on Monday, the emergency starter nonetheless shut out a formidable Philadelphia Phillies lineup for six full innings before turning the reigns over to Brad Ziegler and the bullpen crew.
Miley's current 2012 stat-line of a 1.84 ERA and two wins rivals that of 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (1.61 ERA, 1-0), and far outpaces many other teams' aces, such as San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, who has had a rough first 18.2 innings of 2012, putting up a 1-2 record with a 8.20 ERA.
The Great Addition No One Saw Coming: Jason Kubel
I should qualify that title, as I predicted Kubel's acquisition would garner positive results for Arizona, back when the club signed him in December last year.
At the time, however, such a stance was not shared by others.
To all those naysayers—this joke's on you.
Kubel has proven to be an integral part of the early 2012 Diamondbacks outfield, coming through time and time again in April: From his two home runs and four doubles to his seven walks and four outfield assists, Kubel's performance has been impressive with the promise of more of the same yet to come as the season progresses.
Stephen Drew's Progress, Closer to Return
Injured shortstop Stephen Drew demonstrated promising signs in his comeback effort Monday, diving for a ball in the hole during a grounder drill for the first time since breaking his ankle in July of 2011. Said Drew, "I planted on the ankle and twisted on it...It feels pretty good right now."
Drew additionally sprinted around the bases for the first time since his injury. Manager Kirk Gibson expects Drew to play three times at Salt River Fields over the next week before returning to the major league roster.
After Injury, Upton Returns and Contributes, Picking Up Where He Left off
When the Diamondbacks went on their season-high four-game losing streak last week, it was all without outfielder Justin Upton in the starting lineup.
Appearing sluggish as he attempted to play through a right thumb injury, Upton sprang to life in his first game back since having fluid drained from the offending digit last week. Since his return, Upton has recorded his first home run and RBI of the 2012 season and more importantly, assisted Arizona in snapping their losing streak.
With a 2-for-3 performance Monday against the Phillies, Upton's return to 2011 form is confirmed, his batting average back at .238 after dipping to just .133 during the midst of his injury.
The Diamondbacks will need their two-time All-Star if they hope to dominate the NL West in 2012.
Early Injuries: Hudson and Young to the DL
No team truly wants to see two of its stars injured and on the disabled list, especially in April.
Yet, this is exactly the fate that has befallen the Arizona Diamondbacks with pitcher Daniel Hudson and outfielder Chris Young.
Hudson was placed on the 15-day DL with a right-shoulder impingement: Though last week's MRI confirmed no structural damage in the shoulder, Hudson's recovery remains slow, but steady.
Young was placed on the DL with a shoulder contusion, though outfielder Jason Kubel and fill-in Wade Miley have proven their worth with successful assist and backup performances this season.
As Hudson observed, there is a silver lining to these early-season injuries: "I'd rather be safe than sorry in April and be ready to go in September."
The History of the Come-from-Behind
Speaking of Hudson's forward-looking optimism, Arizona won the NL West last season after beginning the season as a disappointment: Through April 23, 2011, the Diamondbacks were similarly in fourth place in the NL West behind the Rockies, Dodgers and Giants, though Arizona's record was 8-11, as opposed to 9-8.
With a record barely eclipsing the .500 mark in 2012, the Diamondbacks are off to a better start than the 2011 incarnation—and that's without the anticipated services of Hudson and Young.
Arizona is a far way off from panic, and these 10 early signs suggest the Diamondbacks can dominate the NL West once again in 2012.