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Falling short of expectations, D-backs look forward

PHOENIX -- While the 2011 season was an unexpected success for the Arizona Diamondbacks, 2012 turned out to be just the opposite.

A year that began with much anticipation following the 2011 National League West championship run, ended with an 81-81 mark which was good for third place.

Picked by many to repeat as division champs, the D-backs started 2012 on a good note winning their first four games, including a three-game sweep of the Giants at Chase Field.

A 3-8 stretch followed and the D-backs would not see first place again during the season.

Throughout the year, the D-backs felt they were just one winning streak away from recapturing the magic of 2011, but that consistency eluded them. Arizona's longest win streak of the season was five games and each time it seemed on the verge of getting on a roll, a losing stretch seemed to follow.

"How many times did we get four games over .500 and then go back to .500?" D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

Trying to figure out why the team was stuck in neutral led to a lot of frustration in and around the clubhouse.

"It was one of those deals," Gibson said. "You look at guys and players all around the league, sometimes they have up years and they have down years. Look, things have to go right to be a world champion. Things have to go right to make it to the postseason, and that was not the case for us last year."

Gibson vowed to spend the winter figuring out what went wrong with the 2012 team and how he can make it better in 2013. Here is one final look back at the highs and lows of 2012, recapped by the top five storylines of the calendar year.

5. No longer the underdogs
After they snuck up on everybody in 2011, the D-backs found themselves as the favorites in the NL West in most preseason publications.

Gibson warned his team early and often that there were no guarantees, and the team would have to play with the same intensity it had shown the year before. Somehow, the message did not get through.

"I said many times prior to the season that success is very dangerous," Gibson said. "I think it was. I don't want to say anybody was complacent or that I was, but it's really hard to explain. There's just really not a good word for it."

4. Injuries played a role
The injury bug bit the D-backs and it bit hard early.

Pitcher Daniel Hudson, counted on to be the No. 2 starter, missed time in April with a shoulder impingement and then was lost for the season in June to an elbow ailment that required Tommy John surgery.

Outfielder Chris Young got off to a torrid start at the plate, but he injured his right shoulder in a collision with the outfield wall on April 17. While he was able to return a month later, he was never the same player the rest of the season.

Fellow outfielder Justin Upton injured his left thumb sliding into second base in early April, and while he did not go on the disabled list and never complained about the injury, it would later be revealed that it bothered him for most of the season. That, no doubt, was a large reason why his power numbers were down at the plate.

"If you remember, he virtually broke his thumb in the first week of the season, played with it, and just maybe got a little out of whack on that, developed some bad habits and was never able to regain it," Gibson said of Upton.

And there was shortstop Stephen Drew who did not return until the end of June after suffering a nasty ankle dislocation/fracture in July 2011.

3. Disappointing homestand seals division fate
When the D-backs opened a 10-game homestand on Aug. 20, a postseason berth still seemed within their grasp.

Arizona had won four straight and sat three games over .500 and 4 1/2 games out of first place.

The D-backs, though, dropped the first two games of the homestand to the Marlins and after winning the next two against Miami, they proceeded to lose the final six to the Padres and Reds.

Suddenly, the deficit in the division was 9 1/2 games and the D-backs' chances of winning the NL West again were all but gone as the calendar flipped to September.

2. There were individual bright spots
Any doubts about whether first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's solid big league debut in the final two months of 2011 were a fluke were laid to rest as he ranked among the leaders among NL first basemen in average (.286), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.490), hits (147), home runs (20) and RBIs (82).

Second baseman Aaron Hill hit for a pair of cycles in a span of 11 days, becoming just the second player in the modern era to collect two cycles in a season as he notched a Silver Slugger Award.

Outfielder Jason Kubel reached the 30-homer mark and catcher Miguel Montero was once again an ironman behind the plate and a force in the batter's box as he ranked second among NL catchers in RBIs with 88.

Wade Miley, who didn't look like he would even make the team when Spring Training opened, was Arizona's lone All-Star representative and he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting.

1. A banner year down on the farm
While the Major League team failed to make the playoffs, the D-backs' Minor League squads were racking up the championships.

Five Arizona affiliates -- Triple-A Reno, Double-A Mobile, Rookie-Advanced Missoula, Arizona Summer League's AZL D-backs and Dominican Summer League's DSL D-backs -- claimed playoff spots.

Reno went on to win the Pacific Coast League title as well as the Triple-A Championship game, while Mobile won its second consecutive Southern League title and Missoula won the Pioneer League crown.

It was the first time in the organization's history that three affiliates won championships.

"We had five [playoff teams] in our Minor Leagues, and what's the key, one of the keys to being competitive year in and year out?" Gibson said. "It is having great depth and establishing things throughout your Minor Leagues. We did that."

Arizona Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Wade Miley, Miguel Montero