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Youth has served Diamondbacks well

October 03, 2007|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Here, the youth movement worked.

Three rookies and a second-year shortstop will be in the lineup for the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field tonight when they open their National League division series against the Chicago Cubs. A 20-year-old right fielder and a third-year first baseman also probably will be on the field in the next few days.

Whereas the Dodgers are turning their team over to their future nucleus in phases, the Diamondbacks did so abruptly. The result was something that surprised the club itself: a National League-best 90 wins and a division title.

"That quickly, it's unbelievable," Manager Bob Melvin said. "It really is. I've kind of refrained from saying this, but what these guys have accomplished this year is nothing short of spectacular."

Not that there weren't consequences.

They had the worst batting average in the National League (.250) and a run differential of minus-20, making them only the fourth team in history to reach the postseason despite being outscored by their opponents.

"When we lost, we lost big," said first baseman Tony Clark, who at 35 is one of the team's few veterans. "And when we won, they were mostly one- or two-run ballgames. With the group we have, when things didn't go well, they really didn't go well."

Rookie Chris Young hit 32 homers but batted only .237. Stephen Drew played 148 games at short but had a .238 average.

The Diamondbacks had five winning streaks of at least five games, but also had three losing streaks that were as long.

"Early on, we were as Jekyll and Hyde as you could get," Melvin said. "Seven wins, seven losses. There was no middle ground. It felt like a yo-yo at times emotionally."

Clark is said to be a reason why the team didn't collapse.

Called "Big Daddy" by his teammates, Clark sits in a corner locker that is frequented by the team's younger players.

"He's kind of like everyone's dad in here," rookie third baseman Mark Reynolds said.

Clark makes it a point to make himself available to answer questions, whether or not they're baseball related.

"It's not one of those things where you say, 'Monday, Wednesday, Friday you can talk to me and Tuesday, Thursday I'll do what I need to do,' " Clark said. "You just remain available. That affords them that comfort zone to ask you questions."

Clark acknowledged that the infusion of youth might've been made easier by the fact that the veterans were far outnumbered. For the older players, the writing is on the proverbial wall. Fate was easier to accept.

"The older guys were open-minded to us not only as players but as people," Upton said. "They didn't shut us out, like, 'Oh, he's up here' or 'He's going to take my job.' None of the guys are worried about that."

And the young players aren't worried that lowering their averages by moving a runner over will be held against them.

"Trust me, the coaches and scouts notice that stuff," Reynolds said.

Another source of comfort has been the pitching. Anchored by veterans Brandon Webb, Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez, the Diamondbacks posted a staff earned-run average of 4.13 that was fourth-lowest in the league. Closer Jose Valverde and set-up men Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon helped the Diamondbacks to win a league-high 32 one-run games.

Outfielder Eric Byrnes said their ability to win close games should serve them well in the postseason, saying of his team, "It's a group of winners."

The long ball is often responsible for the few runs that the Diamondbacks score, as their 171 home runs tied them for sixth in the NL. In the Cubs, the Diamondbacks will be facing another feast-or-famine team. The Cubs hit 45 home runs in September, 14 by Alfonso Soriano.

"We're not going to change anything," Cubs Manager Lou Piniella said. "We're an aggressive hitting team, a swinging team. Arizona is a lot the same way."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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