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Despite struggles, core is sound

Despite struggles, D-backs' core sound

PHOENIX -- When the D-backs reported to Spring Training, there was plenty of optimism that they would be able to win their second National League West title in three years.

2009 Midterm Report

Three months later, the D-backs are sellers in the trade market, hoping to restock their farm system.

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Injuries have certainly played a part. Ace Brandon Webb hasn't pitched since Opening Day and left fielder Conor Jackson has been out for much of the first half.

Instead of challenging the Dodgers for supremacy in the West, the D-backs will spend the second half evaluating their young talent for 2010.

Club MVPs: For now, it's a shared honor between outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Mark Reynolds. Upton was the NL's Player of the Month in May and, despite a slump prior to the break, has been a force in the lineup. Reynolds' improved approach at the plate and in the field has been one of the bright spots in the first half.

Call him "Ace": Dan Haren has not only been the best pitcher on the D-backs' staff, but he arguably has been the best in the league. The right-hander has registered a quality start in all but one of his starts and more often than not has been dominating.

Greatest strength: The starting rotation has been the lone consistent part of this team despite Webb making just one start. Haren, Doug Davis, Jon Garland and Max Scherzer have consistently put the team in position to win and pitched their fair share of innings.

Biggest problem: Early in the season it was the offense, but over the last two months it has unquestionably been the bullpen. While there have been positives, the 'pen as a whole has been an Achilles' heel.

Biggest surprise: On May 8, the D-backs named A.J. Hinch to replace manager Bob Melvin. That Melvin was dismissed was not a huge surprise given his deteriorating relationship with GM Josh Byrnes, but the hiring of Hinch, who had no prior managerial experience and was the team's farm director, caught everyone, including those in the clubhouse, off guard.

Team needs: The D-backs have dug themselves too deep a hole to make the playoffs a realistic goal. Instead, the team needs to focus on the future. The team is committed to its core players so it needs to figure out what moves need to be made around it in order to retool for 2010 and beyond. That includes giving some of its younger players consistent playing time and dealing free agents-to-be, veterans such as and Felipe Lopez, to restock the farm system.

He said it: "Our stated objective is pretty clear. We have a core of players that we don't' really want to touch, we have some players we might consider if we get pieces back that have long-term value to us. Those discussions will go on. Whether they lead to more trades or not, I don't know." -- Byrnes.

Mark your calendar: The bill for all those home games in April comes due in August when the D-backs play 19 of their 28 games away from Chase Field. The month includes two three-city trips.

Fearless second-half prediction: The D-backs will play better in the second half, but not well enough to reach the .500 mark overall.

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

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