It is good to be king, and the defending NL West champion Diamondbacks could be considered the favorite to repeat after their unexpected rise last season. At the same time, it is safe to say they did not bask in their own success over the winter. General manager Kevin Towers acquired right-handed starter Trevor Cahill, left fielder Jason Kubel, and relievers Takashi Saito and Craig Beslow in an attempt to build on the success created by a 29-game turnaround that led to a 94-68 record and their first NL West title since 2007.
"History has told us that it (NL West winner) is somebody different each and every year," Towers said. "That's why we didn't stand pat. We added to what we already had, and we have to play better baseball to come in on top last year."
Towers' expertise at building a pitching staff served the D-backs well last season, and the staff appears even more capable this season. The first two starters in the rotation, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, each had career years in a 2011 and they are young enough for some to believe they are just hitting their stride. Kennedy and Hudson each pitched a career-high 222 innings in 2011, and with the addition of Cahill and return of Joe Saunders, the D-backs have four pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings in a year. Saunders tossed a career-high 212 innings in 2011 and Cahill's 207.2 was also a career-best. Acquired from Oakland, Cahill won 18 games for the A's in 2010 and has 40 major league victories before turning 24. They have the capability of keeping the D-backs in virtually every game they start.
The bullpen behind new closer J.J. Putz and setup man David Hernandez had a nearly two point improvement in its ERA in 2011, when D-backs were a major league-best 84-0 in games they led after eight innings. Saito and Breslow will further deepen that group, Breslow becoming a second left-hander that the D-backs have done without for years. Right fielder Justin Upton, fourth in the NL MVP voting after a year in which he had 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases, is among the returning core of position players who also had career years in 2011. Catcher Miguel Montero and third baseman Ryan Roberts had similar big years, and are being counted on again.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who had 40 home runs between Class AA Mobile and the D-backs last season, has made every advancement in stride, and his work ethic leads the D-backs to believe the best is yet to come. Goldschmidt victimized Tim Lincecum (twice) and Cliff Lee with home runs last season. Kubel, who averaged 19 home runs and 79 RBI in five seasons with Minnesota, will take over from Gold Glover Gerardo Parra in left, leaving Parra to back up all three spots.
Kubel's bat also provides lineup insurance in case shortstop Stephen Drew is not ready for the start of the season after sustaining a major right ankle injury last July 20. Drew broke the fibula, dislocated an ankle and ligament damage when his spikes caught in the dirt while sliding into the plate and was lost for the season. Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald filled in well after Drew went out and were proactively signed early last fall, just in case. Drew's availability appears to be the only question facing the D-backs entering the spring, and with the intense Gibson's prodding and attention to detail, there is no chance that the team will rest on its laurels moving forward.
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