It was a disappointing season for a team that for five months looked primed to take their second consecutive National League West title.
The Diamondbacks led the division for exactly five months, from April 6 to Sept. 6, and seemed to have everything in order after taking a 4 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers on Aug. 30. But Arizona faded down the stretch.
The top two starters, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, combined for 36 victories, and Randy Johnson added another 11, but when the rotation went into two-week funk late in the year, the young hitters could not bail the team out.
The D-backs were thin after the injury losses of outfielder Eric Byrnes (July) and second baseman Orlando Hudson (early August) and even the addition of outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn on Aug. 11 could not help an offense that finished 10th in runs despite playing in one of the best hitters' parks in the NL.
It became apparent that the D-backs may have expected too much out of 20-year-old outfielder Justin Upton, who hit .325 with five home runs in April but batted only .195 in the next two months before being sidelined by a strained left oblique muscle. Third baseman Mark Reynolds also may have been pushed, too. He led the D-backs with 28 homers and 97 RBIs but became the second player in major league history to lead both leagues in strikeouts (204) and errors (35) the same year. He set a major league record for strikeouts.
Stephen Drew became the player many envisioned, joining Robin Yount and Nomar Garciaparra as the only major leaguer shortstops to amass at least 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers in the same year. Outfielder/first baseman Conor Jackson had his first .300 season, joining Drew, outfielder Chris Young, Upton and catcher Chris Snyder as a lineup fixture.
The D-backs have Webb and Haren for at least the next two years (Haren is signed through 2013). Add in left-hander Doug Davis and right-hander Max Scherzer, and Arizona has a solid rotation, more so if free agent Johnson returns, although he must fit into the team's small-market salary structure.
Right-hander Chad Qualls was the closer the final 16 days and will take that job into spring training, but it is clear the team needs a left-handed specialist and at least one more bullpen arm to go with returning right-hander Tony Pena, probably two.
--LHP Randy Johnson, in possibly his last start in a Diamondbacks uniform, gave up two singles and struck out nine in a 2-1 victory over Colorado in the season finale. It was his 295th career victory and his first nine-inning complete game since July 16, 2005, in a 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh while with the Yankees. Johnson is a free agent, and it is unclear how he fits into the D-Backs' projected payroll in 2009. "Absolutely," Johnson said when asked if he considered that Sunday might be his last game with the D-backs, although he went no further about his future plans. "I don't even know what I'm having for dinner tonight," he said.
Johnson received a standing ovation when he left in the ninth inning, and chants of "Ran-dy, Ran-dy" brought him out for a curtain call. "Very heart-warming," he said. "The fans here have been very supportive. I appreciate that."
--3B Mark Reynolds, who had two strikeouts and an error in the season finale, became the second player to lead the major leagues in strikeouts and errors in the same season. Reynolds had 204 strikeouts and 35 errors, although he also led the D-backs with 28 home runs and 97 RBIs. Cubs shortstop Roy Smalley struck out 114 times and had 51 errors in 1950. "It's a matter of pitch recognition and being more patient and more selective. Right now, it's still a learning curve," Reynolds said.
--The D-backs drew 2,474,038 fans this season, their highest total since 2004. They drew about 149,000 more fans than last season with sales of season tickets and season-ticket equivalents at about 16,000. "It's a pretty good indicator that the fans like the product on the field and like the way they are treated at the ballpark," D-backs president Derrick Hall said.
--RHP Brandon Webb, a top NL Cy Young candidate, finished 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA. "I feel good where I'm at," Webb said about his candidacy. Giants RHP Tim Lincecum was the only other NL pitcher with as many as 18 victories. Webb had 183 strikeouts in 226 2/3 innings, his fourth consecutive season with at least 225 innings. He won the NL Cy Young in 2006 and was runner-up in 2007. Webb had a career high in victories and won eight games after D-backs losses, stopping a five-game losing streak in May, a four-game losing streak in August and a six-game losing streak in September.
--The D-backs finished the regular season 15-3 against Colorado, setting a franchise record for most season victories against one opponent. Their previous record was 14 in 2002, also against the Rockies. The D-backs won all six series between the two and were 8-1 at home and 7-2 at Coors Field. The teams will open the 2009 season in Phoenix on April 6, and they have two series at Chase Field in the first 2 1/2 weeks.
--OF/1B Conor Jackson had his first .300 season, finishing at that figure exactly, and he set career highs with 31 doubles, 162 hits and 87 runs.
DIAMOND STAT: 8 -- Starts it took Randy Johnson to reach career victory No. 295, although he had six quality starts in that run.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't even know what I'm having for dinner tonight." -- LHP Randy Johnson, a free agent, on his plans for 2009.
The Diamondbacks will continue building around top-level starting pitching and a young nucleus of position players. Most of their key players are either under contract or under control, so there may not be much offseason movement.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The team has only one position open, second base, although if it decides to move 3B Mark Reynolds to second, it could look for a third baseman. The D-backs could use a left-handed bat. They will have a hole in the rotation if free agent LHP Randy Johnson leaves, and they do not have a true left-handed bullpen specialist.
FREE AGENTS: 1B Tony Clark, 1B/OF Adam Dunn, 2B/SS David Eckstein, RHP Juan Cruz, 2B Orlando Hudson, LHP Randy Johnson, RHP Brandon Lyon
The D-backs are certain to let Dunn and Hudson test the market and would like Johnson back, but at their price. Clark is a valuable clubhouse presence and could be brought back, depending on other moves. They have talked to Eckstein about returning. Lyon and Cruz may have priced themselves out of the D-backs' range, but there is some sentiment to trying to get both back.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: INF Chris Burke, OF/1B Conor Jackson, LHP Wil Ledezma, INF Augie Ojeda, RHP Chad Qualls, C Chris Snyder
Jackson, Qualls, and Snyder will be retained, and if the D-backs follow their usual path, they'll stop short of an arbitration hearing. Ojeda is expected to return. Burke still seems to remain in their plans.
IN LIMBO: 1B Chad Tracy ($4.75 million salary in 2009) could be a trading chip for a second baseman, although he hit well at the end of the season and could stay as he is one of Arizona's few left-handed bats. C Miguel Montero, another left-handed hitter, is well-regarded in baseball circles, but is stuck behind Snyder, so he might be available in the right deal. Montero also may see time at third base.
OF Eric Byrnes (torn left hamstring) had been cleared to run at the end of the season. After taking October off, he plans to return to his rehabilitation program after opting not to have surgery. He expects to be full strength by spring training.
2B Orlando Hudson (left wrist surgery in August 2008) was to have the pins removed from his wrist shortly after the end of the season. He was preparing to begin a rehab program.
RHP Edgar Gonzalez (sore right elbow) missed the final three months of the season while opting to rehabilitate a strained ligament. He will test his elbow in the Mexican Winter League.