Not even close to halfway through the 2011 MLB season, many conclusions can't be made about the playoffs or who will be winning each division come October. When a team with high expectations like the Minnesota Twins has a terrible 17-34 record through 51 games, most people write it off as being too early in the season and still expect Minnesota to be in the NL Central title race later in the season.
The same can be said for the Twins' division rival the Cleveland Indians. The Indians coming into this year were not expected to be good at all and are now leading the Central with a stellar 31-19 record. The jury is still out on the Tribe whether or not they will be still be leading the division down the stretch of this season.
But when does the "it's still too early" excuse become implausible? In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, leaders of the NL West over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the excuse does not apply.
The Diamondbacks are for real this season and will win the NL West by the time this grueling 162-game season is over. By far the D-Backs strength is their hitting. They have four players on their team with at least seven home runs. These players are Justin Upton (9), Chris Young (9), Ryan Roberts (7), and Kelly Johnson (7).
The thing that makes this D-Back team special is that most of their everyday starting lineup is made of up signed players that most others teams didn't want. The team's third baseman, Ryan Roberts, had just 398 at-bats for 3 other MLB teams before this season with Arizona.
Another example is the Arizona second baseman Kelly Johnson who was released by the Atlanta Braves in 2009 and was signed by the D-Backs before last season. Johnson hit 26 home runs for the Diamondbacks last year and is his way to that mark again this year.
Now on to the pitching. The D-Back pitching staff was widely viewed as the team's shortcoming before this season but it has turned into a strength.
The starting pitchers have been very effective this year with young guys like Ian Kennedy (former Yankee), Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter eating up innings and winning games. Kennedy is 6-1 on the season with an ERA of just over 3.00 and Collmenter has a 1.49 ERA (wow) in four starts and seven relief appearances this season.
Starting pitcher Zach Duke (former Pirate) returned off of the disabled list on Saturday and shutout the Astros for seven innings and also hit a home run to lead his team to victory. Duke provides a live, lefty arm for the Diamondback going forward.
The team's closer, JJ Putz, has also been a revelation this year going 16-16 in save opportunities.
New manager Kirk Gibson will lead this upstart mix of young talent and wily veterans to a division championship and maybe even more than that in this 2011 MLB season.