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 PHOENIX (AP) -The Arizona Diamondbacks start four rookies, sometimes five or six. They've been outscored by 22 runs this season. They are at the bottom of the NL in hitting with runners in scoring position.
Yet, look at the standings. The kids are on top.
Arizona heads to Florida and Atlanta this week for a six-game trip with the best record in the league (67-52) and a three-game lead over San Diego in the NL West.
``It's all just coming together for us,'' said second baseman Orlando Hudson, an old-timer in the lineup at 29.
Hudson and left fielder Eric Byrnes, two of the game's more energized players, provide the on-field leadership. In the clubhouse, it's 10-year veteran Tony Clark.
``You knew when we got in to spring training the young ballplayers we had were very capable,'' Clark said. ``It was simply a matter of how quickly we could apply the major league baseball lessons that they were going to have to learn. It's a testament to them that they're applying them relatively quick.''
Two of the rookies, shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Chris Young, had starting jobs assured before the season began. In mid-May, with injuries sidelining Chad Tracy, third baseman Mark Reynolds came up from Double-A Mobile.
But the latest call-up is generating the biggest buzz. Justin Upton, at 19 the youngest player in the majors and youngest ever to play for Arizona, is the starter in right field. The top pick in the 2005 draft, he carries the burden of being compared to a young Ken Griffey Jr. In the week or so since his arrival, the comparison has not seemed a stretch.
``Every time he's up there you feel like something good is going to happen,'' manager Bob Melvin said. ``He just has a presence about him that you feel like good things are going to happen. He's got power to all fields. Once he gets up to speed out there on the bases, he's fun to watch.''
Upton is hitting .294. Of his 10 hits, seven are for extra bases - three doubles, three triples and a home run. A week ago, he fell a single shy of hitting for the cycle.
Byrnes, batting .300 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs, was rewarded for his big season with a three-year, $30 million contract.
But the backbone of this team throughout the season has been its bullpen, although relievers faltered badly Sunday, twice blowing a lead in a 7-6 home loss to Washington.
It was only the fourth loss in 21 games for the Diamondbacks.
Despite the debacle, relievers Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten and closer Jose Valverde all have ERAs under 3.00.
As for the starters, reigning NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb is pitching as well as he has in his entire career. With his second shutout in a row on Saturday, Webb extended his string of consecutive scoreless innings to 33.
Livan Hernandez, no stranger to big games, has come back after struggling for a stretch, and left-hander Doug Davis has won four starts in a row. Rookie Micah Owings is holding on to the No. 4 spot.
The No. 5 spot in the rotation, though, is a problem. Randy Johnson's season-ending back surgery left a starting job open. Most recently, the team sent Byung-Hyun Kim to the mound after acquiring him off waivers from Florida. Kim, one-time Arizona closer, struggled mightily and was booed by the home crowd.
Speaking of crowds, the Phoenix area hasn't exactly warmed to this surprising contender. Attendance is averaging 26,500 for home games, 8,000 shy of the major league average.
The players shrug off the lack of big crowds, saying they are concerned about things they can control. Melvin downplays any talk of a pennant race, too, instead emphasizing one series at a time.
Arizona has won seven consecutive series and, since the All-Star break, eight of nine.
Success comes from pitching, defense and speed - with just enough hits to make the difference. The Diamondbacks are 26-16 in one-run games.
``We don't blow you away,'' Melvin said, ``but they're timely.''
---
AP Sports Writer Andrew Bagnato contributed to this story.
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