Diamondbacks in the Rough? Not this year

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They just ended a nine-game win streak. They house an arm well within contention for the 2011 Cy Young race and their right fielder is batting .295 with 26 homeruns and 81 RBIs. They’re currently seven games ahead, yet no one seems to realize it.

Each season, there is a team that shocks the baseball world by performing far better than expected. This year, that team may be the Arizona Diamondbacks. The funny thing is, many people have yet to realize it.

The D-Backs have swept through the NL West with quiet poise. Perhaps they’ve been overshadowed by the San Francisco Giants’ flamboyant attitude and perhaps they don’t carry a four-ace pitching rotation like the Phillies, but they’ve somehow managed to propel themselves as one of the key contenders in the National League.

Ian Kennedy has been one of the main anchors for the Arizona ship and so far, he has yet to take on any water. Kennedy is a 26 year-old right-hander with a repertoire of four reliable pitches (fastball, change, cutter, curve). He goes right after hitters, regardless of the fact he doesn’t throw an overpowering fastball and his pitches don’t move with devastation. Many analysts make note of his exceptional precision, particularly his ability to spot his low-nineties fastball. This year, Kennedy was the first NL pitcher to reach 18 wins, even before Philadelphia phenoms Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. In addition to his career-high number of wins, Kennedy has also pitched a career-high number of innings and is on the easy track to accumulate a career-high number of strikeouts. More important than Kennedy’s resume of stats is his ability to come through when needed. Recently, he outdueled SF Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum to further Arizona’s lead over San Francisco. Kennedy has by far been the stunner when it comes to NL pitchers, but he isn’t necessarily alone.

Daniel Hudson has also provided some hope for Arizona, though he is no Cy Young contender. Currently 15-9, Hudson is also quietly having a career year. His numbers aren’t quite that of Kennedy’s, but he has currently won four of his last five starts and holds a 3.53 ERA. He also has tossed some key wins for the D-Backs, such as the 4-1 and 6-1 wins he threw over San Francisco respectively. Hudson may be overshadowed by Kennedy’s success this season, but he is piecing together an important season that the Arizona franchise will certainly take into consideration for their future.

The Arizona D-Backs cannot be discussed without mention of Justin Upton. Just 24 years old, Upton has become the franchise face of the D-Backs and if he continues to succeed – and work harder – he’ll be a key to the D-Backs’ future for many years to come. Upton was drafted as a 17 year-old and made his MLB debut at the age of 19. His numbers continue to improve and he is currently batting .295 and is now a member of the 20-20 club. His growing maturity must also be noted and though he has a way to go before he reaches a veteran leadership status (see this video), many teammates and analysts have noticed his spike in maturity over the recent year. Upton has come through for the D-Backs as a star player and has proved that he can and will be a leader for them if he continues to execute his natural talent.

As a team, the D-Backs aren’t tearing through the leaderboards. They’re currently ranked 19th in team batting average  at .249 and 12th in team ERA at 3.84, yet they somehow manage to find ways to win – and at this point, that’s all that can be truly asked of them.

Though I personally don’t believe the Arizona Diamondbacks will be strong enough to withstand the force from Philadelphia or the Brew Crew from Milwaukee this postseason, they have undoubtedly assembled a memorable year. And that’s not saying they won’t prove me wrong and shock the baseball world even further by tearing through October uncontested. But first, they must bear down and keep the second-place Giants from gaining any ground.

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