Arizona Diamondbacks: Dark Horse to Win the NL West?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJanuary 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks runs to first on his game tying home run in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 31, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.    (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Arizona Diamondbacks haven't been talked about very often this offseason, but with their reported signing of free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, fans should divert their attention back to the desert.

National League West bloggers in particular have the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies as the favorites to finish first and second in the division this year. These reports have mostly been due to neither team losing any vital players to free agency and both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres going through various financial and ownership issues.

But nobody seems to be talking about the Arizona Diamondbacks. Just three seasons ago the Diamondbacks won the division with a 92-70 record and two seasons ago finished two games over .500 at 82-80. But in 2009 Arizona battled an immense amount of injuries and finished with a record exactly opposite of their division title from 2007.

Rightfully so, a 72-90 record and last place finish in the NL West doesn't make a team a favorite to win the division the following season. However, with Arizona signing Adam LaRoche, and both Conor Jackson and Brandon Webb returning healthy, the Diamondbacks have arguably the most talented roster in the division.

Arizona boasts the following projected batting order in 2010:

1. Chris Young CF

2. Stephen Drew SS

3. Conor Jackson LF

4. Justin Upton RF

5. Adam LaRoche 1B

6. Mark Reynolds 3B

7. Miguel Montero C

8. Ryan Roberts 2B

If this lineup doesn't scare fans of the other four NL West teams, (like yours truly who follows the San Francisco Giants) then fans need to look closer at the numbers.

Upton, LaRoche, and Reynolds in the 4-5-6 spots could in fact hit for over 100 homers between just the three of them given the fact that last year the three combined for 95 bombs.

While Reynolds total of 44 homers is bound to fall, both Upton's and LaRoche's home run totals should increase.

LaRoche should hit more than the 25 he hit for last year, as Chase Field is much more conducive to the home run than Turner Field in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Upton is still just 22-years old and is bound to improve on his '09 marks.

The 1-2-3 spots of Arizona's lineup will do much better than last season with Conor Jackson back in the mix and Chris Young most likely bouncing back from a down year last year.

And Miguel Montero hitting seventh? Montero hit .294 last season with 16 bombs, 59 RBI, .355 OBP, and a .478 slugging percentage.

His OPS of .832 from last season was over .100 points higher than what Giants catcher and cleanup hitter Bengie Molina posted last season and Molina was a type-A free-agent catcher this offseason. With Monerto hitting in the seventh spot, the Diamondbacks have  production up and down the lineup.

But the Diamondbacks are going to need more than just offense to win this division with the likes of the Rockies and Dodgers boasting solid lineups in their own right. With a healthy Brandon Webb and the pickup of Edwin Jackson as the third starter, Arizona arguably has a top-three in their rotation better than that of the Giants (and remember this is a die-hard Giants fan writing this piece).

It's Webb, Dan Haren, and Jackson versus Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito. Let's make the comparison right now. The following are the WHIP's of each team's top three starters from each pitcher's last full season.

Webb's 2008 WHIP: 1.196, Haren's 2009 WHIP: 1.003, Jackson's 2009 WHIP: 1.262

Lincecum's 2009 WHIP: 1.047, Cain's 2009 WHIP: 1.181, Zito's 2009 WHIP: 1.354

Now the numbers are similar, but despite the Giants' highly praised rotation, you could argue that the Diamondbacks have a more dominant front end of their rotation.

While I may root for the Giants, if I could have either group of top-three starters for one season to win a World Series, I would take Arizona's in a heartbeat.

The only phase of the game where the Giants clearly have an edge is in the bullpen. Other than closer Chad Qualls, the Diamondbacks have a rather mix and match group of relievers including former Giant Bob Howry and former Cub veteran Aaron Heilman leading a group of inconsistent young arms.

San Francisco on the other hand, has All-Star Brian Wilson closing, arguably the best set-up man in baseball in Jeremy Affeldt, and young studs Sergio Romo and Dan Runzler ready to assume larger roles.

But even if the Giants were to get into the Arizona bullpen, they hardly have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe in a slugfest and therefore will once again be banking on winning low scoring affairs inside the division.

If the Arizona bullpen can at the very least improve on last years performance, the Diamondbacks might just sneak up on people with their offensive firepower and the return of Brandon Webb.

Assuming Arizona can have a relatively healthy season, don't be surprised if they win the division.


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