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Arizona Diamondbacks Show Glimpses of Past Teams Early In 2012, But The Magic In The NL West Might Be With The Los Angeles Dodgers

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By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine

April 17, 2012 — As the Arizona Diamondbacks approached the 2012 season, the experts were split on how they would perform during the upcoming season.

Some were sure that 2011 was a fluke and that the team would resemble the D-backs of 2010 — a bunch of underachievers that would find ways to turn wins in to losses.

On the flip side of the coin, there were those who said that the D-backs had gotten stronger with the Jason Kubel signing, the trade for Trevor Cahill and a steel-hardened bullpen.

In the first week, or so, of the season, they played as both the skeptics and the proponents predicted with some respectable performances against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. But then, they travelled up to Colorado and got punk’d by Todd Helton not once, but twice.

So what’s the truth?

The only people that can answer that question are the Diamondbacks themselves and they have 153 games to prove it.

There have definitely been some bright spots so far. Ian Kennedy has proven that his status as the ace of the staff is justified. The guy without one overpowering pitch is proving that if pitchers can ‘pitch’ by putting good sequences on batters — only possible by locating all of the pitches in their repertoire — any pitcher’s stuff is good enough to deliver overpowering results. Even though he gave up nine hits and three runs in six innings on opening day, Kennedy only walked two batters and made some big pitches when necessary. Then, he came back and pitched into the seventh inning, walking one and surrendering a run.

While Kennedy is expected to dominate, Chris Young, well, has been expected to deliver unexpected results at the plate for most of his career. A lifetime .242 batter with a .708 OPS, Young has not cooled from the torrid pace he set in the Cactus League. He is hitting .405 with a .525 on-base percentage and an OPS of 1.392 (as of Monday). He single-handedly gave the team the win Sunday against the Colorado Rockies with three RBIs.

Thank goodness Young is on such a tear because without him in the lineup, the D-backs might really be in trouble. Justin Upton has had a tough go of it, which most likely stems from a bum left thumb he suffered in the third game against the Giants while sliding into second base. He sat out the first game against the Padres and didn’t take batting practice for a few days after that, so it is obviously something that is bothering him.

Might seem like a good time to give him a rest and test the outfield depth that was heavily discussed in the off-season, right? But Jason Kubel has not gotten hot, and seems to still be adjusting to a new team and a new league. He only has one extra base hit — a double in about 26 at-bats while hitting .200. This is probably another case of Gibby Knows Best and who is better suited to consider such things than than the reigning Manager of the Year? But surely, if Young cools off, and Upton is still not healthy, they will need to score runs some-way, some-how.

Regardless, it is only a week into a very long season. Upton will inevitably heat up as long as the thumb does not lead to another injury. In 2011, the D-backs were 5-5 after their first ten games last season, compared to 7-3 this year. It was their hot May — winning 17 of 19 in one stretch — that catapulted their 2011 season.

What should most concern Diamondbacks fans at this point in 2012 in the hot start of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have started the year 9-1 and are looking like they have some magic going on in Chavez Ravine. Baseball’s “feel good” story in 2012 — exactly where the Diamondbacks were in 2011 — might just be going on in Los Angeles this year.

Matt Kemp is proving 2011 was no fluke, Andre Ethier is still healthy — so far — and some unsung heroes seem to have the baseball gods on the Dodgers’ side. How else can one explain them turning a triple play and then having a walk-off win Sunday?

It is just creepy.

Yes, the Dodgers have only played the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres, but after they finish with the Brewers this week, they have another month of softies — teams not expected to compete in 2012 — on the schedule. That is a lot of time and a lot of momentum that might be built up.

But it is still early and there is a lot of baseball to be played. Even if the Dodgers have a monster first half, they will still have to prove they can do it over the long haul — something the Diamondbacks did in 2011. The Dodgers are also not the deepest team in the league and it will be interesting to see if the Diamondbacks off-season efforts to add depth will eventually carry them past the Dodgers.

Thanks to the recent changes to the playoff system, two teams will qualify for the wild card ‘game’ this year, so no matter how the season turns, the loser of the battle for the NL West still has that going for them.

But if the D-backs can avoid looking less like the 2010 team and more like the 2011 team the rest of the way, you have got to like their chances.

Bob Goodwood lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. Reach him directly at bob.goodwood@yahoo.com.
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