Spring Training will soon be over and then the games start to count for real. While the Diamondbacks have had a successful spring, you still have to wonder how much of this success will carry forward into the regular season. At the same time you have to wonder how many of the struggles that the Rockies, Padres, and Giants are facing are indications of the type of year that those teams will have. In the case of the Diamondbacks it is easy to start buying into the positive stories and press that the team is receiving. The young position players that the Diamondbacks have brought up through the system look ready for a full Major League season. That’s the thing about March; hope springs eternal in the spring. With the exception of maybe the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or the Washington Nationals you could make an argument that any of the other 28 teams could reach the post season. Last year the Florida Marlins with a miniscule payroll found themselves in contention for the National League Wild Card with less than a month left in the season. The Detroit Tigers showed that a team could go from challenging the 1962 Mets record for futility to win an American League pennant. The Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics show that building from within can produce a perennial winner and compete with the big market clubs so why can’t the Diamondbacks be the next Cinderella story?
The National League West may not be the worst division in baseball but it is not the most difficult either. All five teams in the division could easily find themselves in the post season with just a couple of breaks and a healthy team. As a hometown fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks I would like nothing better than to see my favorite team in the play-offs. I just find myself hesitant to crown the 2007 Diamondbacks as play-off ready. With the amount of youth this team will have in the starting line-up day-in and day-out it will most likely be a very streaky year. There will be series where they look like a veteran team and could very well string together 8-10 victories in a row. Then there will be times as the young hitters will need to make adjustments to changes in the way they are pitched which could very well lead to 6-8 losses in a row. Diamondbacks fans will most likely suffer a Jeckle and Hyde type of season as the youngsters try to get comfortable and consistent. I think the top of the pitching rotation will be pretty good with Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson challenging each other and reminding more than a few people of the Schilling and Johnson tandem. While Doug Davis’ stats mirror those of Barry Zito, I am concerned at the number of walks he issued last year and this spring. I want to believe him when he says he is pitching better than the stats show, I just am not quite convinced yet. Livan Hernandez seems timeless but I have to wonder whether the sheer number of innings he has thrown is starting to catch up to him. I hope he is good for 190-200 innings but I just don’t know if there is that much left. Edgar Gonzalez this spring looks like he did late last season which is promising. I hope he finally has put it together otherwise the bullpen is going to be very busy every 5 days. The closer situation is pretty scary. Jose Valverde himself is pretty Jeckle and Hyde so he should fit right into the theme of 2007. That isn’t going to endure him to either his teammates or the coaches so I’m already starting to worry about what happens in the 8th and 9th innings. Jorge Julio is not much more consistent than Valverde so that option doesn’t seem too attractive. Of all the guys in the bullpen I probably feel most confident in Tony Pena but last year he showed signs of vulnerability. There are just too many unknowns for me to confidently say the Diamondbacks are the team to beat. The Padres and Dodgers both filled several holes this season and I think in the end the Diamondbacks will be competitive but will find themselves in third place with an 83-81 record and high hopes for 2008. I just pray that I will look back on this entry in October and proclaim what an idiot I was in doubting this team this year.