The Baseball Notebook

March 6, 2010 11:00 AM

Arizona Diamondbacks Preview

The Arizona Diamondbacks had great expectations a year ago, and were even a dark-horse pick for the World Series by some. And not without reason. When you play in a division that looks weak on the surface and have Dan Haren and Brandon Webb at the top of your rotation, big dreams are legitimate. But the Dodgers were excellent from start to finish, and both the Rockies and Giants emerged as playoff contenders. Worse, Arizona’s health fell apart, and Webb missed the entire season. But the cliché about hope coming alive in spring are appropriate here, because everyone is healthy and the D-Backs have all the pieces in place to be a contender in 2010.

Webb is back in the fold and ready to give the team its feared 1-2 punch at the top. And they have added Edwin Jackson from Detroit, who posted a solid 3.62 ERA in 214 innings against American League lineups. Jackson doesn’t have a long track record of success, but if 2009 was any indication, Arizona will be lights out in its top three spots.

The Diamondbacks are even stronger at catcher. Miguel Montero showed he’s one of their rising stars at a position where true stars are hard to find. Coming off a .355 OBP and .478 slugging percentage last year, Montero is ready to take his place with Atlanta’s Brian McCann as the top NL producers at this position. He’s backed up by Chris Snyder, who was steady and solid in his own right before his injury gave Montero a chance and turned him (Snyder) into trade bait. Further offensive help comes from Mark Reynolds at third, fresh off a 44 home-run season. Even if doesn’t duplicate that, Reynolds is still a proven power hitter who also drives to the alleys consistently. Adam LaRoche is at first base—and with a .355/.488 number, I am mystified as to why the Pirates, Red Sox and Braves all let this guy go last season. Their loss is Arizona’s gain. Finally, young and talented rightfielder Justin Upton, who just signed a six-year deal earlier this week and is All-Star caliber rounds out the offensive threats.

There’s potential at other spots too. Kelly Johnson needs to find the form that made him one of the league’s better young second baseman in 2007 for Atlanta. He’s had two bad years since and needs to get his career moving back the other direction. Stephen Drew is acceptable with the bat, and provides a solid glove at shortstop. Chris Young in center completes a middle defense that is acceptable, if not spectacular.

In rounding out the pitching behind the Big Three, Arizona is picking up castoffs. Ian Kennedy was cut loose by the Yankees, but has flashed real potential in the past. The bullpen has Mets’ castoff Aaron Heilman, who hasn’t bounced back since giving up the game-winning home run to Yadier Molina in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Bob Howry has seen better days in Wrigley, and the D-Back hopes he can be the latest transplant from Illinois to find new life in the warm climate of Arizona. And they have a fifth starter with an interesting name—Billy Buckner, the son of former first baseman Bill Buckner, who enjoyed a long and successful career with the Cubs, Dodgers and Red Sox.

It’s the Diamondbacks’ time to step up. The team is back and healthy. With Kurt Warner retiring from the Cardinals and the Suns no longer an NBA title contender, the city of Phoenix can belong to them. They have the pitching to make it happen.

Up Next: Detroit Tigers on Monday
Final NL West Picks & Preview: March 31

A Member Of