Arizona Diamondbacks: 5 Players Who Will Lead D-Backs to NL West Title

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMay 13, 2012

Arizona Diamondbacks: 5 Players Who Will Lead D-Backs to NL West Title

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    If the Arizona Diamondbacks still have postseason aspirations, they'll need specific key players to step up and lead the charge in the NL West.

    The D-Backs began the 2012 campaign with a blistering start. The team stormed out of the gates by winning their first four contests, and finished their first 10 games with a 7-3 record.

    Injuries, however, derailed the Diamondbacks' winning ways.

    Chris Young—the Diamondbacks' hottest hitter by far at the time, sporting a .410 batting average with five homers and 13 RBI—suffered a shoulder contusion and had to make a trip to the disabled list.

    The leader of the D-Backs offense, Justin Upton, has struggled so far this season and a lot of his offensive woes have to do with a thumb injury he's been nursing.

    Although the Diamondbacks sit under .500 baseball at 15-19, that's still good enough for third place in the division.

    If Arizona has hopes of catching Matt Kemp's Dodgers or the veteran San Francisco Giants, the following players will have to step up.

1. Chris Young, CF

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    Chris Young was one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball before going down with a shoulder injury. He's only played in 11 games so far this season as a result.

    Young's blazing start can be attributed to a tweak in his batting stance. Hitting coach Don Baylor advised that Young should hold his hands farther away from his body. He hit a home run off of Giants ace Tim Lincecum in his first at-bat of the season. The slight change seems to be working.

    If the Diamondbacks want to stay in the hunt this season, Young will have to continue hitting once he gets back from the disabled list.

    Obviously it's unrealistic to believe he'll continue hitting .410, but he needs to come back and lead the offensive charge.

2. Justin Upton, RF

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    Justin Upton is another D-Backs outfielder who has had issues with injuries.

    Even though he's been hurt, Upton has fewer home runs in 31 games played (three) than Chris Young had in just 11 games (five).

    Upton is also hitting .231 this season, a major dip from his batting average last season of .289.

    Before Upton can be expected to return to his old self at the dish this season, his injured thumb will have to heal.

    Diamondback fans need to hope it heals quickly, though. Another month and the D-Backs may be chasing the Dodgers from a worse position.

3. Joe Saunders, SP

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    You probably wouldn't have guessed it before the start of the 2012 season, but Joe Saunders has stepped up as the Diamondbacks' best pitcher thus far.

    Daniel Hudson struggled before finding his way on the 15-day disabled list because of shoulder trouble, new addition Trevor Cahill had trouble adjusting but has gotten it together lately and Josh Collmenter (who was fantastic last season) has been a disappointment with an 8.44 ERA.

    With all of the uncertainty around him, Saunders has pitched well enough to anchor the D-Backs' reeling starting rotation.

    After six starts this season, Saunders has a 2-2 record with a 2.50 ERA (the best earned run average of his entire career).

    Saunders turned some heads in a game against the Miami Marlins this year when he threw a shutout while only surrendering three hits.

    Saunders' career year will have to continue, especially with the rotational uncertainty around him.

4. J.J. Putz, CP

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    J.J. Putz was one of the best closers in all of baseball last season, saving a massive 45 games for the Diamondbacks. This season, however, Putz has been shaky to say the least.

    Putz does have six saves in the early going, but he's blown two save opportunities (resulting in two losses), has an ERA of 9.00 and has already surrendered four home runs.

    To put that last fact in perspective, Putz has given up as many homers this season as he did in 58 innings pitched all year last season. That has to be a huge red flag for the D-Backs.

    Despite not being his usual dominant self, Putz is finding a way to close out games more often than not.

    Nevertheless, he'll need to return to form soon, especially if the D-Backs' offensive struggles continue.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

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    The power numbers for the Diamondbacks have been down across the board this season. The team leader in home runs is Chris Young, with five. Keep in mind he has only played in 11 games thus far.

    Paul Goldschmidt, after smashing eight homers in 156 at-bats a season ago (that's a round-tripper once every 19.5 at-bats), has just two homers this year in 93 at-bats (that's a homer once every 46.5 at-bats).

    One huge reason for that is scouting. Opposing teams are beginning to understand that Goldy feasts on fastballs, but really struggles against the off-speed stuff (think Pedro Cerrano).

    If Goldschmidt can learn to work the count and recognize off-speed pitches, it will only help him.

    It's tough to call out Goldschmidt (a young hitter who's still learning the game at the major league level), but he's struggled the most.

    However, other D-Backs hitters' power numbers have been put on notice.