Mark Reynolds has a giant black hole in his swing, and one that's almost as big in his mitt. Eric Byrnes has a couple of cut-rate hammies. Chad Qualls is a 6-foot-5 question mark.
The Arizona Diamondbacks face numerous issues as they head into their season-opening series against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field -- not least, how the youthful kings of last April will cope with the psychic damage of their late-summer collapse -- but Reynolds, Byrnes, and Qualls will likely play key roles in determining whether Bob Melvin's D-Backs win their second National League West title in three years or cede back-to-back NL West crowns to the L.A. Dodgers.
3B Reynolds, a.k.a. Mr. Upside, smacked 28 homers and 97 RBIs in '08, but only hit .239, and dubiously led the bigs in both strikeouts (204) and fielding errors, the first time that's been done since 1965. He cut down slightly on the whiffs during spring training, but the errors kept coming, and Reynolds surely knows a revitalized Chad Tracy is likely to see significant time at third.
LF Byrnsie was the feisty sparkplug of the D-Backs' 2007 title team, but his hamstrings kept him off the field for much of last season. When he played, he looked like was swatting at gnats. Dude couldn't hit a lick, though -- and this means nothing -- he knocked the snot out of the ball in Cactus League play. He'll likely scrap for playing time in the OF, but there's plenty of reps to go around if Byrnes can keep hitting and, most significantly, running the bases.
Last year, D-Backs closers rivaled drummers in This Is Spinal Tap for life expectancy, but Qualls proved the best of a dicey bunch toward season's end. Like Reynolds, Qualls has a huge upside -- his best asset is that he only gave up only four dingers in 73 innings in 2008 -- but as with all things related to the D-Backs bullpen, we're gonna have to see some proof before we drink the Kool-Aid.
Speaking of things that mean nothing (we hope), the Diamondbacks' purported strength, starting pitching, got consistently rocked in spring play. On paper, it's the best rotation in the National League, maybe the majors. Can Brandon Webb and company flip the switch when the games start counting?
We'll see when the D-Backs and Rockies face off at 12:40 p.m. today, 6:40 p.m. tomorrow, and 12:40 p.m. Wednesday. Webb faces Aaron Cook in the season opener, with Dan Haren dueling Ubaldo Jimenez on Tuesday and Doug Davis facing off against Franklin Morales on Wednesday. All three games will be broadcast nationally on MLB TV and locally on FSN AZ. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. Info: www.dbacks.com.
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