162 games later, what started out as a very promising and very dominant season has turned into one of regret. The players have failed, the management has failed, the front office has failed and really, so too have the fans. The 2008 Dbacks season will be remembered as much more a turning point than as a stepping stone. It will be the moment when historians look back and identify when, why, and how things went wrong in the desert.
As spring was coming to a close, there was much to be said for the Dbacks. Chris Snyder and Connor Jackson had shown great progress at the plate. The newly promoted closer, Brandon Lyon, appeared solid and ready to handle the pressure. Eric Byrnes showed power and speed. Orlando Hudson was in a contract year. The future stood in right, center, third base, and second base and every point looked bright. Chris Young was poised to become a perennial 30-30 player. Justin Upton was to follow his lead. Mark Reynolds would crush 40 home runs and Stephen Drew would draw more comparisons with his brother JD and less with other brother. Josh Byrnes had moved some mid-level pitchers and a top of the line outfielder to secure a 200-inning ace in Danny Haren. He had also sent volatile yet successful Jose Valverde to Houston when is value was at its highest. Spring was as bright as the Arizona sun.
April proved everyone right as the Dbacks steamrolled over the rest of the NL West. Sweeping both the Rockies and Dodgers to start the season and then failing to lose a series to any NL West rival until May 27th put them well ahead of the pack. Dodgers dealt with injuries, the Rockies lacked pitching, Giants and Padres rebuilt and meanwhile, the Dbacks surged. Even a back injury to Randy Johnson and cancer afflicting Doug Davis failed to slow the team as rookies stepped up to fill the gaps.
Eric Byrnes, the team's leader and backbone, found himself in a major slump that began to pull the team down as May wore on. His strikeout totals rose, he failed to get the ball on the ground, and his power was lacking. When he finally went down, it spelled trouble in Arizona.
Hoping to fill the gap, as they had done before, the Dbacks used a revolving door of outfielders in Byrnes' place. Jeff Salazar, Chris Burke, Alex Romero, and Emilio Bonifacio all had a hand in left at some point during Byrnes' absence and none were able to revitalize the team.
Byrnes made an attempt to return to the Dbacks in June and actually helped them beat the Red Sox during this first game back. For a brief moment, the tide had appeared to change. Byrnes went back on the DL a few games later and the Dbacks staggered into the All-Star break. At this point it was clear that the offense was still the problem. After spending all of 2007 with great pitching and no hitting, the front office decided that things needed to change.
On July 17th, the Dbacks traded to get Tony Clark from the Padres. Clark was instrumental in the Dbacks playoff run in 2007 and, some claimed, the missing piece for 2008. With an extra backup at first base in Clark, it was time for Bob Melvin to try something drastic. In what started as a sick joke (to me, at least) and turned into a "solution," mediocre fielder-yet-hot-hitting first baseman Connor Jackson was slotted into the spot in left. The terrible fielding and throwing of Jackson doomed the team but his hot bat, coupled with Chad Tracy's return from the DL and Tony Clark's platoon, was enough of a stop gap to keep Arizona in first place. This was, however, the first move that would ultimately topple the Dbacks' tower.
With Brandon Lyon showing signs of struggling, putting pressure on Chad Qualls, Tony Pena, and Juan Cruz, the Dbacks made a play for Jon Rauch on July 22nd. The Dbacks traded their light-footed AAA second baseman Emilio Bonifacio to the Nationals in return for the 6'11" relief pitcher. Many in the valley thought this was a great move. There were a few who questioned the move, however. Orlando Hudson was not likely to be re-signed by the team and Bonifacio was being groomed as his successor. This trade left the Dbacks without a starting second baseman in the event Hudson went down and for the foreseeable future.
These moves helped propel the Dbacks back above .500 and into a solid lead over the rest of the NL West. The rest of July and August went smoothly with the Dbacks making great strides towards the NL West Championship. August did begat one of the worst moves in Dbacks' history. In what felt like a flashback to the Richie Sexon trade, the Dbacks made a reactionary move and sold off a large stake of their future to compete with the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez. The team brought on Adam Dunn from the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that would eventually include Wilken Castillo, Dallas Buck, and Silver Slugging pitcher/4-0 in April Micah Owings. The Dbacks could have sent the Reds anyone on their team but sent their number 5 pitcher. While not immediately seen, this trade caused a ripple effect that brought down the Dbacks in September.
August also saw the breakdown of Orlando Hudson again. The over-hyped fielder broke his wrist and ended his season. This was merely salt in the wound created by trading Bonifacio for Rauch. Not only was Rauch terrible for the Dbacks but Bonifacio was needed now more than ever. Augie Ojeda did a decent job filling in for Hudson, however, but was unable to replicate is patch-job of 2007.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Adam Dunn, they had a two game lead over the Dodgers with about 5 weeks of baseball to play. Exactly one month later, the teams had swapped positions and the Dodgers were about to clinch. What transpired in those 30 days only exacerbated the crumbling foundation of the Dbacks. Dunn, a first baseman/outfielder, was defensively poor at both positions. He was used in right initially, giving the Dbacks two poor-fielding corner outfielders along side Connor Jackson. When Justin Upton returned, Dunn was moved to first where he was even more of a liability. The slugger managed a few homeruns and was able to show the Dbacks what a walk looked like but all too often failed to produce in the clutch; the exact opposite of Manny Ramirez. Bringing Dunn on appeared to upset Jackson, the team's offensive threat all year, and caused him to fall into a horrible hitting slump. Dunn appeared to make every player on the Dbacks worse. Even the unstoppable Webb-Haren duo was affected. Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Adam Dunn helped create a line-up that was horribly strikeout prone.
The starters faltered at the worst time. The bullpen collapsed when the starters were good. The offense was D.O.A. most nights. The defense was terrible every night. The Dbacks finish the season 82-80 on a strong finish against the Rockies. The season that was supposed to watch the Dbacks and Dodgers battle it out for the chance to play in the World Series turned into a season where the Dbacks mortgaged the farm for a chance to watch the Dodgers send the city of Chicago into a depression.
The Dbacks lost their star closer last spring. This year they lost his replacement. They will most likely not re-sign Lyon and Qualls and Rauch are both ill equipped. They lost their second baseman to an injury and will lose him to big bucks this spring. They sold off his replacement and are looking to fill the gap with the man who made the most errors in the majors; Mark Reynolds. They lost Eric Byrnes and may never see him back to 2007 form. His replacements may be of similar caliber but it is unlikely that AZ can afford to do what LA has done with Andruw Jones and bench him. Connor Jackson may be more suitable for left field but that leaves a gap at first with Tracy. Chris Young's sophomore slump was painful and his swing shows no signs of improvement. Justin Upton's growth has been stunted by rapid ascension and he has learned poor hitting habits from guys like Byrnes, Young, Reynolds, and Snyder. Bob Melvin has abandoned a running game in favor of American League ball, something he failed at in Seattle. His base coaches, particularly Chip Hale, ran the Dbacks out of too many games with an inability to read the field. The season was a disaster. The team is a disaster.
The bightest light from Arizona this spring will be coming from Stephen Drew and Max Scherzer. Assuming Drew continues to grow and Scherzer doesn't get overworked, the Dbacks will have at least one more year where they can compete. By 2010, however, when multiple players are set to hit the market, the Dbacks will have trouble replacing them from within the organization. That does not bode well for the fair-weather fans of Arizona. The rebuilding years are coming. Baby Backs Part 3 - 2010.