In 2007, just three seasons after losing 111 games, the Arizona Diamondbacks won 90 games and the NL West title and reached the NLCS. They were swept by red-hot division rival Colorado, but it was a terrific season for a young ballclub. The future looked bright for a team that started just one regular position player over 30 and had the youngest lineup in the National League.
Among the promising hitters: Rookie center fielder Chris Young hit 32 home runs and stole 27 bases; shortstop Stephen Drew, in his first full season, hit just .238 but played solid defense and had 44 extra-base hits; rookie third baseman Mark Reynolds hit .279 with 17 home runs in 111 games; second-year right fielder Carlos Quentin had struggled (.214/.298/.349), but the team had called Justin Upton, who was just 19 when he made his major league debut. Backup catcher Miguel Montero showed promise in his rookie season. Sitting in the farm system: Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Max Scherzer and Jarrod Parker. With that base, the D-backs followed their 90-win season by winning 82, 70 and 65 games and the 2011 team is 12-15 with four starters owning ERAs on the wrong side of 5.00.
So, what went wrong?
1. The 2007 team wasn't that good. Despite winning 90 games it was actually outscored 732 to 712 and despite playing in a great hitter's park, ranked just 14th in the NL in runs and 16th in batting average and on-base percentage. In truth the Diamondbacks had a bad offense -- granted, one that could be expected to improve due to the young hitters ... but how much?
2. The Eric Byrnes contract. Late in the 2007, the team signed the scrappy Byrnes to a three-year, $30 million extension. Byrnes had a nice 2007, hitting 21 home runs and stealing 50 bases. But he was 31 years old and the contract proved a disaster as Byrnes hit .218 over two seasons before getting released.
3. Thinking they need to improve upon a rotation of Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and Micah Owings, the team traded Gonzalez and Anderson to the A's for Dan Haren. Haren was traded last season to the Angels for a mediocre Joe Saunders and prospect Tyler Skaggs, who is several years from the majors. So, for Gonzalez and Anderson the team basically received two-plus years of Haren and a bottom-of-the-rotation starter.
4. Brandon Webb's injury. The team's ace and 2006 Cy Young winner, Webb won 22 games in 2008 before hurting his shoulder.
5. A related note has been Arizona's complete inability to develop starting pitchers. Once you get past Webb, the starting pitcher developed from within with the most victories in a D-backs uniform is Owings, who won just 14.
6. Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. The homer-happy approach of the lineup went too far. After striking out the 10th and 11th most times in history in 2008 and 2009, the team set the all-time record in 2010, whiffing an amazing 1,529 times, with five players striking out at least 145 times. The strikeouts became a major hindrance to the young hitters becoming bigger stars, most notably Upton, who followed an excellent 2009 with a disappointing 2010. Young has been inconsistent and the team finally gave up on 200-strikeout man Reynolds, trading him to the Orioles.
7. Too much lost talent: Quentin, Alberto Callaspo and Jose Valverde were all traded and Orlando Hudson left as a free agent. The Diamondbacks have nothing on the current roster to show for those guys.
8. Bullpen blues. The pen -- led by closer Valverde -- was excellent in 2007, but slowly deteriorated to the point that Baseball Prospectus analyzed the 2010 pen as the fourth-worst since 1950.