The Diamondbacks won the 2011 National League West in large part because of timely hitting, a strong bullpen and a major league-best 48 comeback victories, all driven by career years from a half-dozen major contributors.
The D-backs are struggling to get over .500 this season because many of those years have not been repeated, although injuries to key components cannot be discounted.
Justin Upton, who finished fourth in the NL MVP race, is a prime example. Upton set career highs in virtually every offensive category last season when he batted .289 with 39 doubles, 31 home runs, 88 RBI and 21 stolen bases.
His bat virtually carried the D-backs in the middle two months of 2011, when they overcame a slow start to get into contention.
It has been different this season.
Slowed by a bone bruise in his left thumb sustained the first week of the season, Upton is hitting .243 with five home runs and 20 RBI, and he recently was the subject of criticism from D-backs' managing partner Ken Kendrick.
"He's certainly not the Justin Upton he has been in the past, and we would expect of him," Kendrick told the website Pros2preps.com. "He's 24 years old. It's time for him to be a consistent performer, and he's not been that."
Upton took off after a one-game benching in Houston late in late May last year, when manager Kirk Gibson and hitting coach Don Baylor had a long talk with him.
After missing only three games last year, Upton already has missed six this season, three in the last week.
"I don't think anybody could challenge that I'm not trying to help the team," Gibson said. "It's not about Justin. It's about the team. You'd like to write out a nice rosy love story and get to where you want to go. Every year is a new path."
Upton is not the only player not performing up to 2011 levels.
Right-hander Ian Kennedy, third baseman Ryan Roberts, closer J.J. Putz and catcher Miguel Montero have started slowly, and although strong starts by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Wade Miley have helped compensate.
Daniel Hudson, won 16 games last year, has been slowed by an injury, missing 48 days because of a shoulder impingement.
Kennedy was 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in his breakout season in 2011, when he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting. He is 5-5 with a 3.93 ERA this season, although he recently broke a career-long five-game losing streak with a mechanical tweak suggested by bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas, who has been with the team since its inaugural season in 1998.
"The 'Tuze' secret," Kennedy called it. "The last two (starts), I found something, an old thing that I had been doing in the past. For some reason you get out whack. Just a minor mechanical thing.
"When I am out there on the mound, I feel when I get under pitches. I tell myself that little key. It might be a little mental thing, but it feels like the ball is coming out of my hand a little better."
It could signal the beginning of a return to form for Kennedy, and the D-backs have showed promising signs recently, winning three of their last four and five of their last seven, with Kennedy's two victories helping the run.
Montero, who recently signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension, had the best season of his career in his first full campaign as a regular last year with 36 doubles, 18 home runs and 86 RBI, but he is hitting only .253 with three home runs and 25 RBI this year.
Putz, who had a career-high 45 saves and a 2.17 ERA in his first season with the D-backs last year, has converted 12 of his 15 save opportunities this season, but his ERA is 6.00, and he also has fought through mechanical issues. His three failed save conversions are one fewer than he had last year.
Roberts had 19 home runs and 18 stolen bases in his first season as a regular at age 30 in 2011, winning the job in May. He is hitting .233 with three home runs, four stolen bases and 22 RBI.
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