Diamondbacks First Quarter Season Review

It seems like whenever your favorite team is struggling, team officials admonish that it is a long season and that we as fans need to be patient. There is still a lot of baseball left to be played and the team is just a winning streak away from climbing back into contention.

Arizona Diamondbacks fans have been hearing this mantra since 2008. After a trip to the National League Championship Series in 2007 expectations have been high for this team.

Things began to unravel in May 2008 when the Diamondbacks began to stumble. The early season success they had in April of that year allowed them to hold on before finally crumbling in September finishing behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and out of the playoffs.

The 2009 season started badly from the beginning and only got worse from there. The team struggled offensively and defensively to end in the cellar of the National League West. This occurred after a change to the manager and coaching staff after just five weeks of the season.

Now in the 2010 season we are seeing similar tendencies to last year. With the conclusion of today’s game where the Diamondbacks were manhandled by the Florida Marlins, the season is now one-quarter gone.

Depending on your outlook that is either a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand we may have just witnessed the worst baseball this team is going to play this year. On the other hand we may have just seen the best baseball this team is capable of playing in which case it is going to be a very long summer in the desert.

The Diamondbacks again find themselves without the services of staff ace Brandon Webb. For those who may have forgotten, Webb last pitched in a game situation on April 6th, in 2009. Since then he has had what we heard was relatively minor shoulder surgery.

Having had three shoulder surgeries myself I can attest there is no such thing as minor shoulder surgery. Webb has suffered setbacks and has not pitched off a mound since late February or early March. With the lack of progress being reported it is looking more and more likely that Webb will not be available until July at the earliest.

Already down a top flight pitcher the Diamondbacks have fared better from a starting pitching perspective that you would have expected. Right-hander Ian Kennedy has been much better than advertised through the first six weeks of the season. He is looking like the dominating pitcher the Yankees were envisioning when they drafted him.

Edwin Jackson who came over in the deal with Kennedy for Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth has been hit and miss so far. When he is on Jackson is dominating as shown during the game yesterday with the Marlins. When he is off he can be horrible as shown in his outing on April 27 when he lasted just two innings against the Colorado Rockies giving up ten runs on 11 hits.

As was the case last season, Arizona is still struggling to find a fifth starter. This of course would not have been a problem had Webb returned but given his injury the Diamondbacks had to have thought they were in better shape than a year ago.

The Diamondbacks spent the off-season working on the bullpen after the 2009 season. They brought in veterans such as Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman and welcomed back closer Chad Qualls after a serious knee injury last September.

With the exception of Heilman the bullpen has gone from bad to worse with everyone struggling at some point and most of the relievers struggling at the same time to give the Diamondbacks an ERA of nearly eight for its bullpen.

I wrote just two days ago that help was on the way with two trades that brought Carlos Rosa from the Kansas City Royals and Saul Rivera from the Cleveland Indians. Rosa pitched well in his first outing but struggled during his second.

Rivera made his Diamondbacks debut today and gave up five runs on four hits while walking two and striking out none. I would like to congratulate Rivera. It usually takes my wife three days to make me look like a complete idiot and he did it in two.

The Diamondbacks struggles are not just on the mound. The offense has also been a source of concern. At times they look incredibly potent. The next day they look like they couldn’t hit a ball if it was placed on a tee for them.

Part of that inconsistency is a result of poor plate discipline. This team has a tendency to take long swings at bad pitches. In years past they have been known to be “free swingers” susceptible to striking out lead by third baseman Mark Reynolds record setting pace the last two years.

This season Reynolds seems to be making better pitch choices and is no longer leading the league in strikeouts. He is not even leading the team in striking out. That dubious honor goes to right fielder Justin Upton who has whiffed an amazing 51 times in just 151 at bats.

Upton and Reynolds are ranked second and third in the National League in strikeouts. Add to that the trio of Adam LaRoche Kelly Johnson, and Chris Young and you have a total of 204 strikeouts which is more than the entire pitching staff has recorded this season.

All is not hopeless for the Diamondbacks. Young has bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2009 season. He is hitting .282 for the year with five home runs and 28 RBIs. Johnson has also been a valuable addition hitting .265 with 11 home runs and 23 RBI already this year.

The defense has also seen improvement over last season. Through today’s game the Diamondbacks have recorded 26 errors ranking them eighth in the National League. This is a markedly better position than last year when the Diamondbacks finished with 124 errors which was only better than the Washington Nationals’ 146.

In order for the Diamondbacks to improve it will take three things to happen. Starting pitcher Brandon Webb needs to return to solidify the pitching staff in the second half of the season. The offense must cut down on the strikeouts and focus more on making contact rather than trying to always hit a three-run home run. Finally the bullpen needs to resolve the issues it has had the first quarter of the season.

The likelihood of these three things occurring is becoming more remote with each passing day. At best it would appear the Diamondbacks may scratch out a few more wins than last season and are likely headed for a second consecutive losing season. Now let’s see if the Diamondbacks can prove me wrong on that point too. I’d gladly accept that.


2 Comments

  1. Good luck Diamondbacks…

    Hang in there Jeff…

  2. J Robert Lee

    I’m a die hard fan, have been since 2000. I’ve got to say these D’Backs are the most frustrating team I have ever followed. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but ultimately, it must end up with “all levels of management”. Today I threw my Walkman at the TV! Please Divine Providence, please lift the “curse”! I can’t keep buying new Walkmans.

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