This is the first installment of a five-part series leading up to Friday's home opener for against the San Francisco Giants. Check back with SB Nation Arizona daily for more Arizona Diamondbacks' analysis and predictions.
In 2011, the Diamondbacks' offense was more punctual than it was plentiful. Despite having the worst run differential (+69) of any playoff team, the D-backs improved by nearly 30 wins from the season before thanks largely in part to their MLB best 48 come-from-behind victories.
And while that was exhilarating and all, counting on a flood of late inning comebacks from year to year isn't exactly the ideal formula for sustained success. With the 2012 season only a few days away, will this offense be able to take the next step and slug their way into victories before the seventh inning? Or will D-back fans be doomed to another stress-filled season of just enough runs to get by? Let's read between the lines of one through nine and see if we can come away with a few answers:
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
- Willie Bloomquist - SS - R
- Aaron Hill - 2B - R
- Justin Upton - RF - R
- Miguel Montero - C - L
- Chris Young - CF - R
- Jason Kubel - LF - L
- Paul Goldschmidt - 1B - R
- Ryan Roberts - 3B - R
- Ian Kennedy - SP - R
The Table-Setters (A.K.A #1 & #2)
There's no doubt the Diamondbacks have the power but the top of the order will be in constant flux throughout the season. When backups Gerardo Parra or Bloomquist are in the lineup, you can expect them to be either one or two but it's difficult to project which starters naturally fits into the lead off role on a consistent basis.
Even though Hill hit .315 in 33 games after being acquired by Arizona, he's better suited in the Alan Trammell two slot as he lacks true base-stealing speed (caught stealing four out of nine attempts with AZ).
Really, with all the natural one hitters stuck on the bench, Gibby is left with only Roberts, Young and perhaps Stephen Drew (when he returns) as viable lead off candidates. I know, it sounds odd that their options are three hitters who hovered around .250 last season but with Kubel pushing Parra to the pine, this has become a much more power-oriented lineup.
In an ideal world, Gibson would let Young settle into this role as he has that 30-30 ability that's known to be a rally-starter but that's not likely as the 2011 NL Manager of the Year has never been one for lineup consistency. Odds are that fans can expect to see all three as the first batter up at points this season despite Drew being a more natural two-hitter and Roberts unlikely to amass a batting average nearly 100 points higher than his average ever again.
But as long as the D-backs continue to avoid double plays (major league low 82 last season), the opportunities will come for the next crew were about to dissect.
The Glory Hogs (A.K.A #3 & #4)
If there's one section of the lineup that's not going to change very often, it's this one.
Last season Upton and Miggy were both second in the MLB at their respective positions in doubles so as long as the plate is set, there's a good chance they'll drive them in. Based on match ups, Young, Kubel and Goldy figure to work into the mix but the three and four spots should hold steady for much of the 162 games.
Expect Upton to build on his MVP caliber year and perhaps even secure the title this season hitting in the best lineup of his young career. But Montero might be more likely in setting new career-highs as this is his contract year and he'll be looking to top the five-year, $75 million Yadier Molina earned this past off-season.
The RBI Machines (A.K.A. #5 & #6)
While these two have traditionally been high-OBP, sac fly types, with the current setup of the Diamondbacks, the five and six spots look to take a more all-or-nothing approach. Young, Kubel and Goldy each feature 30 home run potential but throughout their careers, each has respectively been slump prone.
As I alluded to in my fantasy baseball primer, I believe Goldschmidt is going to struggle mightily for stretches this season so at the end of the day I think this comes down to a battle of Young vs. Kubel. And since Montero will have clean up duties on lock for much of this year, it's doubtful that Gibson will go with back-to-back lefties leaving Kubel unlikely to be higher than six most days of the week.
The Bottom Feeders (A.K.A. #7, #8 & #9)
This is where Roberts and Goldy figure to duke it out most of the season. And unfortunately for the veteran Roberts, Gibson is unlikely to hinder Goldschmidt's development hitting him in front of the pitcher on a nightly basis so it's looking like Roberts may get the short end of the stick in that department.
Unlike a good majority of National League teams, the D-backs have the luxury of fluidity from top to bottom with their starter pitchers knowing how to get a timely hit. Lead by Silver Slugger recipient Daniel Hudson (.277 AVG, 14 RBI and yes, one HR), the Arizona pitching staff totaled 58 hits and 34 RBI last season in 312 at bats. And while they'll now be without the above average bats of Micah Owings and Zach Duke, the nine hole still shouldn't be considered a gimme for opposing pitchers.
The Bench Bunch
- Henry Blanco - C - R
- Gerardo Parra - OF - L
- Lyle Overbay - 1B - L
- John McDonald - SS - R
- Willie Bloomquist - SS/OF/Every position under the sun - R
- Geoff Blum - 3B - S
General Manager Kevin Towers and Gibby will be faced with a tough decision of letting one of these gentleman go when Drew returns but for now we can live in la-la-land and ignore that dilemma entirely.
The Diamondbacks have incredible position flexibility sitting in their dugout so fans shouldn't get to panicky if any starter is to go on a short DL stint. Parra is easily the favorite to see the most action with Gibson finding every way possible to the Golden Glover on the field but Bloomquist should see his fair share as well with the ability to play everything besides pitcher and catcher. Blum and Overbay will get one or two match up/relief starts per week and Blanco and McDonald are purely defense-oriented options.
Overall, offensive depth is arguably this roster's biggest strength and these utility men will all play key roles if the D-backs are to return to the postseason. And now, time for some preseason predictions:
Most likely to cause Daron Sutton to scream excitedly: Gerardo Parra- If there was a perfect-timing statistic, Parra would have led the Diamondbacks in it last season. I can think of at least 15 instances in 2011 in which Parra made an incredible defensive play to kill a rally or kept the offensive rhythm alive with a hit just when they needed it the most. Sure, he may only get three starts per week tops but his impact will be felt in other ways as the first pinch hitter and runner off the pine.
Most likely to inspire bad "over the hill" puns: Aaron Hill- The slam dunk choice here is Roberts as his regression is almost inevitable but fans may find themselves getting frustrated with another over-30 infielder this season. As I previously stated at the top of this feature, Hill had quite the hot streak after moving to the desert from Toronto and was an integral part of the D-backs' pennant run. However, that was in all likelihood the last time he'll ever hit above .300 again, especially considering he was battling with the Mendoza line for the last year and a half before he moved to the NL. The doubles should still be there but he'll be average at best in almost every other category with a .265 BA being the safe bet.
Most likely to cause Kevin Towers to say "Man, I'm glad I called that guy": Geoff Blum- No, this doesn't mean I think Blum is going to snipe anybody in the ass. However, I do believe the savvy vet will reward Towers after what was undoubtedly considered a lost 2011 season. After being limited to only 23 games last year, Blum was Towers only (albeit $2.7 million) mistake in what was otherwise a sparkling first off season. But now finally healthy again and batting a .297/.409/.432 line this spring, the 38-year-old could see more playing time than expected with Roberts assumed fall back to reality and Goldy's likely sophomore strikeout-induced slump. And I'm willing to guess if/when that time comes, Towers will be looking like a roster genius yet again.
Tuesday I'll be talking rotation, bullpen and the curious case of J.J. Putz. So come on back now, ya hear!