The Arizona Diamondbacks found it difficult to repeat their magical 2011 season in defense of their NL West title, when injuries and the lack of a timely hit or a timely stop kept them in the middle of the division for virtually the entire year.
The D-backs spent two days in first place and five in fourth -- all of that in the first four weeks of the season -- before spending the final 133 games in third place. They were never more than four games over .500 and never more than five games under. As one player called it, a "medium, mediocre year."
The D-backs had stellar seasons from second baseman Aaron Hill, catcher Miguel Montero, left fielder Jason Kubel, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and left-hander Wade Miley. But even then the D-backs were unable to find the mojo that led them to a major-league-high 48 comeback victories and a 28-16 record in one-run games, the best percentage in the National League. They had 37 comeback victories and were 15-27 in one-run games this season after a 2-1 loss to Colorado in the season finale that left them a fitting .500 for the season.
"The numbers kind of bear out where we were deficient," manager Kirk Gibson said.
There were more than a few bright spots. Hill set his career high with 76 extra-base hits and had career highs in batting average (.302), slugging percentage (.522) and OPS (.882) in his first full season with the D-backs.
Kubel had 30 doubles and 30 homers for the first time in the same season, Montero had a career-high 88 RBI after signing a five-year, $60 million contract extension in May, and Goldschmidt, who does not have blazing speed, had a brains/brawn combination of 20 homers and 18 stolen bases. Those four figure brightly in the future.
The season was sabotaged by injuries, to a degree. Chris Young missed three months with shoulder and quadriceps injuries, never regaining his form after hitting five home runs in the first 11 days. Daniel Hudson, a 16-game winner in 2011, made only nine starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. Sparkplug Willie Bloomquist missed the final two months with a bad injury. On top of it all, right fielder Justin Upton suffered a bone bruise in his left thumb three days into the season and did not remove the protective brace until the last week of August. He played through the injury, but he was not himself.
Rookie Miley stepped into the breach when Hudson went down and won 16 games, not only becoming a candidate for rookie of the year but also pitching his way into the rotation in the near future, where he will join Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill as returning veterans.
Like most of the half-dozen players who had career years in 2011, Kennedy could not sustain it. After going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 2011, he was 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA. The bullpen was the best part of the staff.
Manager Kirk Gibson preaches aggressive play, often saying he would rather use the reins than the whip, but the D-backs did not function well on the bases this season. They stole 93 bases but were thrown out 51 times, a ratio that is not beneficial. By comparison, they stole 40 more bases and were caught only four more times in 2011. They also ran into way too many outs. One player was thrown out for the cycle -- picked off at first, picked off at second, thrown out trying to take the extra base at third and home -- in the space of two weeks.
The D-backs were able to take a look at some of their future in September, after trading veterans Stephen Drew and Joe Saunders. Left-handers Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs showed positive signs, and outfielder Adam Eaton drew praise in 22 September games after winning the Pacific Coast League most valuable player award at Class AAA Reno.
The D-backs have decisions to make in the outfield. They appear to have legitimate starters given Eaton's strong September, and they could trade from that strength to fill a hole at shortstop and/or third base.