D-backs offense aims to match pitching

D-backs offense aims to catch up

PHOENIX -- Bob Melvin told his players at the start of Spring Training that they should take great pride in winning a league-best 90 games and the National League West in 2007.

He also added that last year was over and done with, a message he's sure to repeat again before Monday's season opener in Cincinnati.

"We don't look at it like we're defending anything," Melvin said. "It's a new year. Everyone is 0-0."

If the D-backs hope to defend, er capture, the NL West in 2008, they will need a better performance from their offense, particularly their young core of position players. Last year, the D-backs were outscored by 20 runs, which usually means a below .500 record. Instead, they turned convential wisdom on its head.

"If we get outscored like that again, we're probably not going to win the division," said Melvin, who was named NL Manager of the Year in 2007.

Arizona's pitching should once again be one of the league's best. Opening Day starter Brandon Webb, who finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, will be joined by last year's American League All-Star Game starter Dan Haren in a rotation that will also feature Doug Davis, Randy Johnson and Micah Owings.

Johnson, coming off his second back surgery in as many years, figures to miss the first 10-14 days of the season, but when healthy last year, he showed he still has plenty left in the tank.

One of the team's biggest strengths last year was the back end of the bullpen with Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde combining to close things out. Valverde is now in Houston, so Arizona will now rely on Chad Qualls, Pena and Lyon to finish off games.

"Primarily, we're still a team built around pitching and defense," D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes said. "I think that will enable us to be competitive each night."

The offense at times last year was, well offensive. The D-backs finished 14th in the NL in runs scored and 16th in batting average. Among those from whom the team expects better is shortstop Stephen Drew, who struggled with a .238 mark in his first full season in the big leagues.

There are also high expectations for right fielder Justin Upton, who has superstar tools, but is just 20 years of age.

At times, it seemed like feast or famine for the offense in 2007, with runs coming in bunches thanks to 171 homers.

"I think what we were last year is kind of our personality right now," Byrnes said. "We were a quick-strike team. I think we're going to grow into a team that grinds through 27 outs consistently, which is something that the elite teams do."

There were some encouraging developments offensively during the spring, with catcher Chris Snyder and center fielder Chris Young both showing improvement at the plate. Snyder hit .292 in the second half last year, and with a strong spring performance, has earned himself a spot in the middle of the lineup. Young, meanwhile, hit 32 homers, but was disappointed in his .237 batting average. This spring, he has shown the ability to lay off pitches that gave him problems last year.

With the NL West expected to be ultra-competitive once again with the D-backs, Dodgers, Rockies and Padres contending, a quick start would certainly be helpful for the D-backs, given their schedule.

After the first three games of the year against the Reds, Arizona will play 26 consecutive games against division opponents. In all, the D-backs will play 22 of their 28 April games against NL West teams. Then in May, just six of their 28 games will come within the division, and none of their 27 June games involve NL West teams.

Pitching matchup
ARI: RHP Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA in 2007)
Webb finished second in the NL Cy Young race in 2007 after winning the award in 2006.

CIN: RHP Aaron Harang (16-6, 3.73 ERA)
This will be Harang's third straight Opening Day start for the Reds.

Tidbits
The D-backs are 5-5 on Opening Day in franchise history. Last year they beat the Rockies, 8-6, at Coors Field. ... This will be Arizona's third straight opener on the road and the first time the club has faced Cincinnati on Opening Day. ... The D-backs are 36-34 all-time against the Reds, including 19-17 in Cincinnati.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN Arizona

On radio
• KTAR 620 AM, KSUN 1400 AM (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Off-day
• Wednesday: D-backs (Dan Haren, 15-9, 3.07) at Reds (Bronson Arroyo, 9-15, 4.23), 4:10 p.m. MST
• Thursday: D-backs (Doug Davis, 13-12, 4.25) at Reds (Johnny Cueto, 2-1, 2.05 in Triple-A in 2007) 9:35 a.m. MST

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.