D-backs will be most-improved cellar dweller in 2010

We might never again see a worst-to-first story comparable to the 2008 Rays (from 96 losses in 2007 to the World Series in ’08), but that doesn’t mean a last-place team can’t grab some headlines for impressive year-to-year improvement. This past season, for example, the Mariners rebounded from a 101-loss disaster to finish eight games above .500. But which last-place team from ’09 will be the most-improved in 2010?

Stan McNeal says the Nationals will be noticeably better, but Chris Bahr says the real turnaround will come from the Diamondbacks:

Heading into the 2009 season, the Diamondbacks were pegged — at least by Sporting News — as the second-place team in the N.L. West. Sure, there were costly offseason losses, including Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon, but the division was expected to be weak. And Arizona still had the dynamic 1-2 rotation punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren.

After four innings on opening day, however, Arizona’s season was all but over. In that start, Webb experienced shoulder discomfort, made an early exit and never threw another pitch all season. The Diamondbacks won the opener, but that marked the only time all season they were above .500. The end result: a 70-92 record — only five fewer losses than the team’s inaugural season in 1998.

But there is potential for a much different result in 2010. Three reasons why:

A healthy shoulder should mean an improved Brandon Webb.
A healthy shoulder should mean an improved Brandon Webb.

Webb will be back. The 2006 N.L. Cy Young Award winner and 22-game winner in 2008 eventually had shoulder surgery, but he will be 100 percent in spring training. Because the procedure on his shoulder was of the cleanup variety, there is far less concern about his health than if he had required labrum or rotator cuff repairs. Even if Webb doesn’t completely return to dominant form, he will be a big upgrade and should be capable of at least 14-17 wins.

Promising young talent. Not all of the Diamondbacks’ much-hyped youngsters have panned out. Center fielder Chris Young, for example, regressed horribly in 2009, and left fielder Conor Jackson experienced a lost season because of illness. Young should be better this season, and Jackson should be healthy. Meanwhile, right fielder Justin Upton blossomed into a star last season, and third baseman Mark Reynolds was one of only five major leaguers to hit at least 40 homers. Given a chance to start, catcher Miguel Montero hit .316-11-40 after the All-Star break. Stephen Drew slipped a bit but remains an above-average shortstop with plenty of upside.

New additions. They didn’t add Matt Holliday or John Lackey, but the Diamondbacks could be better at second base with Kelly Johnson and in the rotation with Edwin Jackson. Johnson’s slump cost him his starting job in Atlanta last season, but that came on the heels of two consecutive solid seasons (.375 OBP in 2007, 39 doubles in 2008). Jackson has won 27 games the past two seasons but has been far better in the first half (3.19 ERA) than the second (5.11 ERA).

Arizona still has holes at first base, in the bullpen and at the back of the rotation, and a worst-to-first jump is highly unlikely. But a .500 finish — or a bit better — is realistic.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

We might never again see a worst-to-first story comparable to the 2008 Rays (from 96 losses in 2007 to the World Series in ’08), but that doesn’t mean a last-place team can’t grab some headlines for impressive year-to-year improvement. This past season, for example, the Mariners rebounded from a 101-loss disaster to finish eight games above .500. But which last-place team from ’09 will be the most-improved in 2010?

Stan McNeal says the Nationals will be noticeably better, but Chris Bahr says the real turnaround will come from the Diamondbacks:

Heading into the 2009 season, the Diamondbacks were pegged — at least by Sporting News — as the second-place team in the N.L. West. Sure, there were costly offseason losses, including Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon, but the division was expected to be weak. And Arizona still had the dynamic 1-2 rotation punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren.

After four innings on opening day, however, Arizona’s season was all but over. In that start, Webb experienced shoulder discomfort, made an early exit and never threw another pitch all season. The Diamondbacks won the opener, but that marked the only time all season they were above .500. The end result: a 70-92 record — only five fewer losses than the team’s inaugural season in 1998.

But there is potential for a much different result in 2010. Three reasons why:

A healthy shoulder should mean an improved Brandon Webb.
A healthy shoulder should mean an improved Brandon Webb.

Webb will be back. The 2006 N.L. Cy Young Award winner and 22-game winner in 2008 eventually had shoulder surgery, but he will be 100 percent in spring training. Because the procedure on his shoulder was of the cleanup variety, there is far less concern about his health than if he had required labrum or rotator cuff repairs. Even if Webb doesn’t completely return to dominant form, he will be a big upgrade and should be capable of at least 14-17 wins.

Promising young talent. Not all of the Diamondbacks’ much-hyped youngsters have panned out. Center fielder Chris Young, for example, regressed horribly in 2009, and left fielder Conor Jackson experienced a lost season because of illness. Young should be better this season, and Jackson should be healthy. Meanwhile, right fielder Justin Upton blossomed into a star last season, and third baseman Mark Reynolds was one of only five major leaguers to hit at least 40 homers. Given a chance to start, catcher Miguel Montero hit .316-11-40 after the All-Star break. Stephen Drew slipped a bit but remains an above-average shortstop with plenty of upside.

New additions. They didn’t add Matt Holliday or John Lackey, but the Diamondbacks could be better at second base with Kelly Johnson and in the rotation with Edwin Jackson. Johnson’s slump cost him his starting job in Atlanta last season, but that came on the heels of two consecutive solid seasons (.375 OBP in 2007, 39 doubles in 2008). Jackson has won 27 games the past two seasons but has been far better in the first half (3.19 ERA) than the second (5.11 ERA).

Arizona still has holes at first base, in the bullpen and at the back of the rotation, and a worst-to-first jump is highly unlikely. But a .500 finish — or a bit better — is realistic.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*