Both clubs came in with high expectations entering the season, as they each had a young nucleus that only figured to improve. They did not disappoint in the early going, as each squad began the season with a 28-17 record through their first 45 contests, leading their respective divisions by a significant margin. Both teams were playing in particularly weak divisions, however, which padded both the teams' win totals and the players' stats, giving both organizations a false sense of superiority.
Both teams began to falter. Those Brewers went just 21-22 between their fast start and the All-Star break. These Diamondbacks have performed even worse, going 19-31 in games 46 thru 95. They were each in for a rude awakening once they began playing some stronger American League teams in Interleague Play, and even some of the stronger teams in the NL. The '07 Brew Crew went 40-43 outside of the NL Central, while this year's Diamondbacks are a deplorable 26-38 so far when not battling an NL West rival.
There is a clear explanation for the Diamondbacks even-more-precipitous decline. Key players like Eric Byrnes, Chris Snyder, and Doug Davis have each missed significant time for the D-backs, while last year's Brewers were reasonably healthy aside from the requisite month or two that Ben Sheets spends on the DL every year. Like Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks, you simply have to pencil in some missed time for certain players. Max Scherzer (who like Ryan Braun last year, joined his team just as it began to falter, their exceptional performances going for naught) has also spent the past month or so on the DL, but that is more likely a play to save his arm for the second half rather than an actual shoulder ailment.
But despite the lack of injuries, the Brewers finished nine games under .500 in the second half of 2007. The league simply adjusts to young players as they get more detailed scouting reports about their tendencies and weaknesses. A sophomore slump does not necessarily happen in a player's second season; it can come after his first 50, 100, or 150 major league games, depending upon the type of player that he is. If these young D-backs can't adjust back to the league and finish nine under the rest of the way, they can expect some serious personnel changes before they watch the playoffs from home.
The 2007 Milwaukee Brewers still won 83 games, marking the first time a Brewers team had finished over .500 since 1992. If the Arizona Diamondbacks pull out 83 wins, that could well be enough to take the weak NL West. Moreover, the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers look fantastic, overcoming injuries (Rickie Weeks, Eric Gagne, Yovani Gallardo) and disappointing performances (Weeks, Gagne, Bill Hall, Prince Fielder) to mount a 52-43 record at the break. Their gung-ho acquisition of C.C. Sabathia has made them the favorites to win the NL Wild Card, at the very least. So even if the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks do not continue playing into October, recent history shows us that they are a good bet to rebound as a strong contender in 2009.
The Diamondbacks organization is at a critical juncture right now, however. The injuries that they have sustained have presented youngsters like Emilio Bonifacio, Leo Rosales, Alexander Romero, and Connor Robertson with the opportunity to showcase their abilities. As the team gets healthier, Josh Byrnes, Bob Melvin, and A.J. Hinch are going to need to make some tough decisions on who should continue to receive playing time and whether a late-season acquisition needs to occur. The 2007 Brewers neglected to make an impact deal at the deadline, and they narrowly missed a postseason berth because of it.
Will history keep repeating itself? Two weeks remain before the July 31st trading deadline, and the money-stacked Los Angeles Dodgers - just a game behind the Snakes - are bound to make some noise. If the Diamondbacks don't respond, we will also be able to make a comparison between the 2007 Chicago Cubs and the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers.Should the Diamondbacks mortgage more of their future and trade for a veteran at the deadline? Sound off in the FutureBacks Forums.
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