Heading into the 2012 season, the Diamondbacks are the default favorites to win the National League West. The defending division champs added a 3 WAR pitcher in Trevor Cahill and have full seasons of a resurgent Aaron Hill1 and entertaining Paul Goldschmidt ahead of them. Mostly, they play in the NL West where the bar is set pathetically low.

Despite coming into the season with everything going for them, the Snakes are not about to rest on their laurels. They are determined to wring every single advantage they can from their 25-man assemblage, maximizing their chances of making the playoffs.

Or, just maybe, Joe Saunders isn’t very good.

Earlier this spring, Josh Collmenter “won” the “competition” to become the Diamondbacks fifth starter. Like most teams, Arizona has little use for a fifth start during the early weeks of the season but such is life.

The rotation is thought to break down thusly:

  1. Ian Kennedy
  2. Daniel Hudson
  3. Trevor Cahill
  4. Joe Saunders
  5. Joshua Collmenter

But when skipper Kirk Gibson announced the rotation, it featured Collmenter going in the third game of the season — at home in the Arizona homerdome against the San Francisco Giants — with Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders making their season debuts in the second series of the year, when the Diamondbacks travel to San Diego.

Call me crazy but eschewing the traditional rotation slots in favour of “matchups” in the first week of the season doesn’t come across as a ringing endorsement. Saunders told Snakes beat dude Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he gets the club’s decision:

He said he was told by the club that the rotation alignment was a case of trying to create the most favorable match-ups possible. If it helps the team, he said, he’s all for it.

Plus, he said, they told him they won’t be skipping the fifth starter when an off-day rolls around, meaning he’ll get to make 33 or so starts.

This cuts two ways. In one, the front office and gruff manager Kirk Gibson deserve credit for placing equal value on games in April as those down the stretch in September, when most teams opt to dicker with their rotation to hide certain pitchers from certain teams.

On the other hand, how bad is Joe Saunders (and Trevor Cahill, to be fair) that sheltering these two pitchers from the freaking Giants offense is suddenly crucial to the club’s success as a whole?

Saunders? I get that. He is pretty much terrible – an innings-eater and placeholder under Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs are ready to storm the scene as the new faces of the DBacks rotation. Cahill? That is puzzling.

The Snakes paid a hefty price to acquire the former beneficiary of O.co Field in Oakland, but now they’re burying him behind Josh Collmenter in the rotation? Saving his groundballing ways for the spacious confines of Petco Park? Wasn’t the point of bringing in a known wormburner like Cahill just so he can thrive in the notorious supercharged-offensive environment?

It isn’t as if Collmenter set the world afire this spring, allowing 23 baserunners and 13 runs in just 12 Cactus League innings. With the excellent young arms waiting in the wings, the struggles of Saunders and Collmenter figure to be minor details in what the Diamondbacks hope is another run to the playoffs. If these two fungible spots starters are only needed on an emergency basis come July or August, the Snakes season will be on the right track.

1 - What? It could happen!