Bloom off the Desert Rose
These D'backs won't slug their way to the playoffs
Posted: Thursday March 29, 2007 11:14AM; Updated: Thursday March 29, 2007 5:38PM
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Spring Training is good for getting a feel for a team. That's about it. As long as you realize that's what you're getting, and that's all you're getting, you should be satisfied.
Like a lot of people, I like the Diamondbacks after watching them some this spring. I have a good feeling about them. They have a lot of exciting, young talent. Pretty decent starting pitching. A serviceable bullpen. They should be very good defensively.
But I also think, for the D'backs to win the National League West, a ton of things will have to go right for them. Those kids -- this team is trotting out a ton of them -- are going to have to minimize their inevitable mistakes and maximize their budding potential. That rotation full of one-time aces is going to have to pitch like it.
And the Diamondbacks are going to have to score a lot of runs on sheer skill and will. Because, let's face it: big hitters they are not.
Nobody's ever going to call these Diamondbacks scary. No whimsy-struck headline writer is going to tab this Arizona team as the "Slugging Snakes." A 50-home run guy? A 40-homer hitter? Thirty, maybe? I don't see it. I'm just not feeling it.
"I'd be surprised," said Tony Clark, one of the few veteran voices on the Diamondbacks, "if we have more than one or two guys hit more than 20 home runs."
Of course, you don't need home run hitters to win, especially in the NL. In the past 10 years, only one team that led the league in homers made the postseason. That was the 2003 Braves, who crushed 238 homers -- 37 more than anyone else -- and then were booted by the Cubs in the first round.
Still, if a team's not capable of putting up a nice three-run homer or two every night, it's going to need other ways to score. And that's what Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin has been pushing on his team since the start of camp. Patience at the plate. Smart at-bats. Taking an extra base when a pitch is in the dirt. Effort. Pushing runners along by hitting to the right part of the field. Stealing a base when it's smart. Bringing in runners in scoring position.
It's a bunch of easier-said-than-done stuff, but it's something that Melvin is pitching hard and something that the Baby Backs have taken to heart. Or so says the preacher, Melvin.
"When you continually do that, the [message] to the other team is 'This team keeps coming. They keep playing hard.' That's what we've been preaching all spring, and we've been pretty good at it this spring," the man players call BoMel said. "We had a play [against] Oakland where we had a runner go first to third, [shortstop Stephen] Drew followed up behind him to second base, got in there by a split second. The infield comes in , [second baseman] Orlando Hudson hits a chopper over the third baseman's head. If that runner's not at second base, the infield is back and it's a double play ball. Instead, it's two runs in, so ... little things like that really affect the outcome of a game."
The trick for the Diamondbacks is to get the right combination on the field to make this old-school NL thing work. Right now, Melvin has a choice of a few leadoff men -- Eric Byrnes, maybe, or Hudson or Drew or rookie center fielder Chris Young -- and a couple of No. 2 hitters. He also has speed he can sprinkle around and some guys who can hit the ball hard in the middle of the lineup -- though, again, it's more doubles-hard than homers-hard.
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