Fast-forward to September 2008 and the Diamondbacks had slid into second place behind the Manny-led Dodgers, whiffing their way to a league penultimate 1287 strikeouts and a 82-80 record. What happened?
Decent pitching but no hitting.
Youth is the obvious answer and it seems that their lack of patience at the plate cost them dearly.
Justin Upton began 2008 by hitting the cover off the ball but began to falter as opposing pitchers figured out that he struggled with the breaking ball. Mark Reynolds had an equally impressive April but progressed as a strikeout machine, whiffing a MLB-high 204 times and booting 34 chances at third as well.
Add in Chris Young's 165 K's and Adam Dunn's known propensity for striking out and the middle of the Diamondback lineup was as likely to swing their way out of an inning as they were to sustain a rally.
So what are the Diamondbacks doing in spring training 2009? Much of the same apparently.
Reynolds has a decent .321 spring average but 15 strikeouts in 50 at-bats against spring pitching and committed 7 errors in his first 20 spring games.
Justin Upton is hitting .208. Chris Young is batting .339 in spring but has a career average of .243 and Adam Dunn is now with the Nationals with his 150 K's and 40 HR.
Throw in the fact that (yes I know it is only spring!) no D'Back starter has an ERA under 4.15 and the recipe is there for a 2009 disaster.
Brandon Webb for years now has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball but he has to be frustrated with Reynold's play in the field behind him. Give any major league team 4 outs per inning and odds are a few runs will score.
The fact that the offense is having difficulty scoring runs places a huge amount of pressure on the pitcher to limit the damage.
Rather than trust their pitches and allow the defense to work they begin to try to place pitches and miss the strike zone.
Dan Haren's performance tailed off after the All Star break in 2008 and Jon Garland has the kind of soft stuff that gets hit 450 feet at hitter-friendly Chase Field. (Russ Ortiz baseball day in the bleachers! Bring a glove!)
Is there some hope? Certainly Young, Upton, and Reynolds have talent and there is a chance that one or two of them put it all together this year.
Upton is just turning 21 and has nowhere near scratched the surface of his potential. New 2B Felipe Lopez brings speed and a quality glove to the lineup, although the team will miss Orlando Hudson's gold glove and personality.
Connor Jackson raised his average to .300 last year and brings a consistent approach to the plate. Chris Snyder has a good bat and handles the pitching staff well. Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes are healthy and add flexibility to the OF and corner IF positions.
Dan Haren has ace-caliber stuff, Max Scherzer throws hard and Brandon Webb is, well, Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. The bullpen has some decent arms in Tony Pena and Jon Rausch and Chad Qualls has the tools to be an excellent closer.
The bright spots for the Diamondbacks all fade without improved patience at the plate. Without collectively lowering their strikeout totals the offense will be stagnant at best.
This team will need to score runs to win with their 3,4,5 starters; inability to drive in runs and put runners on base will only increase the pressure on their arms and young hitters.
For all of the promise that their talent level brings the reality is a .500 team that will have some great days but more often frustrate fans than delight them.
If the pitching fails and the bats do not arrive look out below, Padres, the Diamondbacks are falling!
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