The Arizona Diamonbacks are one of the most interesting franchises in baseball right now. The most obvious reason is that they've won more games than any other team in the NL thus far this season and the oldest player in their starting line-up is 31-year-old Eric Byrnes. In fact, Byrnes and old man Tony Clark (now 35) are the only two Arizona position players over 30. Meanwhile, four of the D'backs' regulars were rookies last year and three of the men on their bench are rookies this year. Things are only slightly different on their piching staff as the oldest man in their pen is 28-year-old failed prospect Juan Cruz and their rotation is led by 28-year-old defending NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb and 24-year-old rookie Micah Owings.
Thus far it's been that pitching staff that's put them on top as the D'backs are tied with the Mets as the second stingiest staff in the NL (fourth in the majors), allowing just four runs per game. The average Arizona starter has lasted 6 1/3 innings per start and posted a 3.51 ERA. Of the seven men to start for the D'backs this year, only rookie Edgar Gonzalez had an ERA over Owings' 3.76 in the role. Gonzalez has since been bumped to the bullpen (by Owings) where he is the only man with an ERA above closer Jose Valverde's 3.33.
Things are less encouraging on offense, but Byrnes, who looked like a right-handed platoon player who was on his way out of baseball two years ago when he jumped from Oakland, to Colorado to Baltimore over the course of a single season, has been mashing (.319/.379/.518) and doing the bulk of his damage against righty pitchers (.332/.384/.508). Orlando Hudson, the second oldest Arizona starter, was worth keeping in the lineup for his glove while in Toronto, but since joining the D'backs has come into his own at the plate to the point that he's legitimately the second best second baseman in baseball (behind Chase Utley and ahead of Robinson Cano). In his best season as a Blue Jay, Hudson hit .270/.341/.438. In his career as a Diamondback he's hitting .288/.360/.456.
As for the youngsters, Conor Jackson is from the Mark Grace school of first-basemen: high average, high on-base, but not the sort of power expected from the position. Catchers Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero aren't hitting enough to make Yankee fans regret the fact that neither was included in the Randy Johnson Deal. Right fielder Carlos Quentin started the season on the DL, then went 4 for 8 with three doubles and a walk in his first two games of the year, but has hit just .200/.289/.345 since. Shortstop Stephen Drew raked as a rookie in the second half last year, but has struggled over an equal number of games this year.
Then there's center fielder Chris Young. Young is considered one of the top prospects in the game and was the ultimate prize from the original Randy Johnson deal (he came to Arizona from the White Sox in the Javy Vazquez-El Duque deal). Like fellow prospects Drew and Quentin, Young got off to an awful start, but he's hit .315/.330/.528 since May 7 and was even hotter than that before a groin injury slowed him at the end of the month.
Of course the two Randy Johnson deals, along with the now-ancient 2001 World Series, provide ample opportunity for rivalry here, but the most compelling angle to tonight's game is the pitching matchup of Webb and Chien-Ming Wang, last year's NL Cy Young winner and AL Cy Young runner up and two of the most extreme and most successfull groundball pitchers in the business. Oh yeah, and if the Yankees win they reach .500 for the first time since May 9, when they improved to 16-16 by beating Robinson Tejeda and the Texas Rangers.
Here's to wondering if either team will play a seven-man infield at some point tonight.
Home Ballpark (2006 Park Factors): Bank One Ballpark (107/106)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Chris Young replaces Luis Gonzalez
Carlos Quentin replaces Shawn Green
Stephen Drew takes over for Craig Counsell
Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero take over for Johnny Estrada
Scott Hairston replaces Jeff DaVanon (DL)
Alberto Callaspo replaces Damion Easley
Mark Reynolds replaces Andy Green aned some of Craig Counsell
Randy Johnson replaces Miguel Batista
Doug Davis replaces Claudio Vargas
Livan Hernandez replaces Orlando Herandez and Juan Cruz's starts
Micah Owings takes over Enrique Gonzalez's starts
Jose Valverde takes over Jorge Julio's save opportunities
Doug Slaten replaces Luis Vizcaino
Tony Peña takes Jason Grimsley's innings
Jailen Peguero replaces Greg Aquino
1B Conor Jackson (R)
2B Orlando Hudson (S)
SS Stephen Drew (L)
3B Chad Tracy (L)
C Chris Snyder (R)
RF Carlos Quentin (R)
CF Chris Young (R)
LF Eric Byrnes (R)
S - Tony Clark (1B)
R - Mark Reynolds (3B)
S - Alberto Callaspo (IF)
R - Scott Hairston (OF)
L - Miguel Montero (C)
R - Brandon Webb
R - Livan Hernandez
L - Doug Davis
R - Micah Owings
L - Randy Johnson
R - Jose Valverde
R - Brandon Llyon
R - Tony Peña
L - Doug Slaten
R - Juan Cruz
R - Edgar Gonzalez
R - Jailen Peguero
15-day DL: L - Jason Smith (IF)
60-day DL: S - Jeff DaVanon (OF)
R - Eric Byrnes (LF)
R - Chris Young (CF)
S - Orlando Hudson (2B)
L - Chad Tracy (3B)
R - Conor Jackson (1B)
L - Stephen Drew (SS)
R - Carlos Quentin (RF)
R - Chris Snyder (C)