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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H15

So, let's say the Diamondbacks catch fire.

Let's say their winter of overspending on free agents pays off (and that ownership is able to meet payroll every month). Let's say Troy Glaus bashes NL pitching, and Russ Ortiz slops his way to 15-18 wins. Let's say the Diamondbacks improve by 10 games this season. No, wait, let's say they really pull off something amazing and improve by 20 games.

Well, folks, that's still a 91-loss season, good for no better than fourth place in this division.

Indeed, Arizona is starting from a tough position. Losers of 111 games in 2004, they were forced over the winter to trade ace Randy Johnson -- who, along with Curt Schilling, once gave the Diamondbacks the best 1-2 punch in the game. While Johnson goes after a championship and a Cy Young in the Bronx -- and Schilling does the same in Boston -- the Diamondbacks are just trying to get out of the NL West cellar.

Despite having almost no leverage, the Diamondbacks at least managed to get a credible number one starter -- Javier Vazquez -- out of the Johnson deal. Back in the NL and away from the New York crucible, Vazquez is capable of a huge comeback season.

But beyond that, there's little cause for optimism here. Both Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez have seen the last of their 40- and 50-homer days, respectively. Greg Aquino, with all of half a season of big league experience, is penciled in as closer. And the bottom half of the rotation is a crapshoot.

They won't lose 111 games again, but triple digits is not out of the question.

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