The eve of Opening Day is traditionally a time for unfettered optimism, but that's perhaps not the case for Diamondback fans, largely because it's not the eve of Opening Day for us. We've already played two games, and lost them both, so start the rest of the year off in an 0-2 hole. Admittedly, both defeats were by only two-run margins, but it probably didn't quite feel like that, as we scored more runs in the last inning, than over the previous 17 combined (or 26, if you include our shutout at the hands of Team Australia). Nothing dampens enthusiasm like having a week to stew over two defeats at "home," to the team generally perceived as favorites for the division.
But one of the most common cliches of baseball, is that it's a long season. There's plenty of time left to turn this around; as previously noted, the 1999 Diamondbacks lost their first four games, and still set the franchise mark for wins in the season. There have been some significant changes to the team, particularly on the mound: of our 13 pitchers announced yesterday, the majority weren't on the team at this point last year (Arroyo, Delgago, Harris, Perez, Reed, Rowland-Smith and Thatcher). On the position player side, the new arrivals from Opening Day 2013 are Campana, Gosewisch, Owings and Trumbo.
All told, that's a 44% turnover, which seems fairly hefty, so we'll see whether the new personnel, combined with hoped-for improvements by the returning ones, is sufficient to close the gap on the Dodgers. The pundits and projection systems aren't exactly encouraging. Of ESPN's 44 pundits, only two have chosen us to win the division, though an additional seven have us getting a wild-card spot. On Sports Illustrated, we get one wild-card from six predictions, and none of CBS Sports' four writers have us higher than fourth. Baseball Prospectus gives us 78 wins and fourth place, Fangraphs 81 wins and a three-way tie for third (or last, if you prefer). So, it's all over then.
Of course it's not. Every year, there's a surprise team that significantly outperforms expectations, and that might as well be us as anyone else. But there's also always a disappointing team that underperforms, and that might be us too. It's the uncertainty that is part of what makes the game so fascinating. You can build a team that, on paper, has impeccable credentials, only for it all to fall apart between the lines on the field. The game has been subject to every greater scrutiny since it began 140+ years ago, and we still haven't figured it all out yet. I kinda hope we never do. So I can predict with confidence: there will be unexpected things that happen between now and October.
As a fan, I'm hoping for great success. However, as a writer, if we can't have that, then I'll settle for great failure, because it would be a lot more interesting to write about than another season of perfect mediocrity (in the strictest sense). It's a long season for us too, y'know, and if simply rumbling along at .500 when August comes along, some way back of the leader.... Well, let's just say, your Saturday Sporcle might be getting called back up from the minor-leagues, sooner rather than later. Trust me, neither you nor the Diamondbacks do not want me to get into the business of manufacturing drama.
But it'll be fun regardless, and the end result is highly likely to be somewhere between the horrors of 2004 and the joys of 2001. After the trailer which was Sydney, the main feature starts tomorrow night at Chase Field. Grab some popcorn, settle into a comfy chair and get ready. Play ball!