Which players will step up and make a difference for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season?
The late 2011 Diamondbacks were bolstered by the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Ryan Roberts, Chris Young, Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy.
For D-Backs fans looking for a repeat performance, Kennedy is 3-2 with a 3.91 ERA and opposing batting average nearly 50 points higher than his .227 performance last season; Upton's OPS has dropped over 200 points since last year; Young is injured; Roberts' numbers have also dropped dramatically—he is on pace to hit 10 HR through 143 games in 2012, compared to 19 HR through 143 games in 2011; and Goldschmidt is in the midst of a power outage.
Short of looking at the current NL West standings and considering San Francisco's lack of 2012 success an X-factor—only the Dodgers, tied with the Cardinals for the best record in the National League, are above the .500-mark in the division—how do fans of a team that holds a .452 winning percentage get excited about what is yet to come?
By remembering that baseball is a seasonal sport.
The excitement of Cy Young candidate Kennedy has given way to surprising outings from Wade Miley, and the cutting-edge anticipation surrounding Goldschmidt has been supplanted by that encompassing Cody Ransom.
Here are five surprising X-factors for the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting with Miley.
So let us begin with Miley, the starter.
One month into his first full MLB season, Miley is 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA, with three starts after appearing in relief three times prior. Miley's worst performance this season was his first start in May, surrendering four runs in six innings pitched to the New York Mets—without that start, Miley would have been a 3-0, 1.29 ERA pitcher.
Some will say it won't last. Some will point to a ground-to-air-out ratio consistently above 1.25, concluding that change is upon us and Miley's .172 opposing batting average is destined to rise—opponents have simply been unlucky and Miley has been very lucky.
Miley was named NL Rookie of the Month in April, joining the ranks of Craig Kimbrel and Jeremy Hellickson, prominent rookies who won the Rookie of the Month Award (Hellickson in the AL) in 2011.
Third baseman Cody Ransom has been a minors-majors commuter, though he has exploded to a .317/.391/.683 line in the bigs this season, clubbing four home runs in just 41 MLB at-bats—a homer every 10.25 at-bats.
With 28 total bases during that period, Ransom is generating a TB-to-AB percentage of .683, a generous return almost twice as great as Justin Upton's .367 mark and significantly more than competing third baseman Ryan Roberts' .313 figure.
Ransom received buzz in the minors, including a 2005 Mid-Season All-Star selection, and for good reason—this 32-year-old is a surprising X-factor in the making.
You'll remember one from Double-A Mobile, a first baseman called up last August after batting .306 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI for the minor league squad? The one named Paul Goldschmidt?
This year's Goldschmidt may very well be pitcher Trevor Bauer, the California native who thus far is 6-1 with a 1.96 ERA through seven starts. His 1.96 ERA is only eclipsed by a .188 opposing batting average.
Bauer has already accrued a 2012 Pitcher of the Week Award, and if the D-Backs continue experiencing Josh Collmenter-type problems with their rotation, Bauer could eventually find his way onto the MLB squad.
Alas and yet full of hope, the 2012 season is young—Bauer still has all the time in the world to make his MLB debut.
Yet don't forget Patrick Corbin—the 22-year-old did make his MLB debut earlier this season. Corbin has only pitched nine innings of big league ball, though the numbers haven't been overpowering by any means, giving credence to the axiom that a pitcher is only ready when the time is right.
In 2010, Joe Saunders put up a 9-17, 4.47 ERA performance, having been traded to Arizona from Anaheim midway through the season. His 2010 batting average against was .291, and his WHIP was 1.46.
In 2011, Saunders earned himself a 12-13 record with a 3.69 ERA and .266 batting average against. His WHIP was 1.31.
In 2012, Saunders is a 2-2 starter with a 2.50 ERA though six games. His BAA is down to .240 and his WHIP is 1.13, the lowest he has ever had in the major leagues.
Sound like a trend?
All of this for a pitcher that was a last-minute solution to a pretty significant rotation problem during the offseason. The D-Backs wanted Hiroki Kuroda, he said no and GM Towers was forced to bring back Saunders to fill the void.
In addition to re-signing Saunders after Kuroda shunned the franchise, the Diamondbacks also got...
Kubel's .766 OPS and .273 average in 2011 were, well, average: He played just 99 games but showed that he still could play big-league ball, clubbing 12 homers, 21 doubles and 159 total bases over 366 at-bats.
And speaking of power, how about this opposite-field tater?