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The stars are finally starting to align in the Valley

There has been a lot of frustration surrounding Valley sports stars in 2023, but things may be starting to turn around.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray is finally close to his long-awaited return to the field.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s quite a time to be a Valley sports fan, isn’t it? At least as far as the big three teams are concerned. We just watched the magical Diamondbacks World Series run, and the new-look Suns are expected to contend for an NBA title. And the Cardinals… well, the Cardinals are the Cardinals. We’ll get to them.

But it’s also been a bit of a frustrating time for Valley sports. Especially as far as our stars are concerned. But the stars are starting to align and the future of Valley sports is looking brighter every day. What do I mean? Allow me to elaborate.

Snakes Alive

The Valley team with arguably the brightest future is the Arizona Diamondbacks, fresh off a surprising (shocking?) trip to the World Series. The Snakes have a host of talented players who helped them get to October, such as Merrill Kelly, Kevin Ginkel, Paul Sewald, Christian Walker, and Gabriel Moreno.

But they are led by their stars: Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte, and Zac Gallen. Led by these three (especially Carroll and Gallen), the D-backs came storming out of the gate last season and the buzz around the team was how far “ahead of schedule” they were. The led the NL West for most of the fist half of the season and looked like one of the best teams in the Majors.

Unfortunately, the magic seemed to run out around the All-Star break as the Snakes tumbled back to earth and down the standings. This is where that frustration I mentioned set in. They went just 8-16 in July and endured a 9-game losing streak in August to fall out of the playoff picture entirely at one point.

What happened? A lot of things, obviously—baseball is a true team sport. But you can’t deny that the D-backs’ stars let them down for a little bit there. Carroll batted just .250 in July, Marte .179 in August, and Gallen’s second-half ERA was nearly a full run higher than his first-half ERA. But these three mostly got it going again down the stretch and into the postseason, helping the D-backs get all the way to the Fall classic. If each of these stars shows just a modicum of improvement next season, who knows what this team’s ceiling could be.

The New Big Three

Numerically speaking, the Phoenix Suns downgraded over the offseason from a Big Four of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton to a Big Three of Booker, Durant, and newcomer Bradley Beal. Still, most observers thought the Suns improved their overall roster and would be one of the handful of title contenders in the NBA this season.

The only problem? Eight games into the season we haven’t yet seen this new Big Three all play in the same game and the team is languishing at .500. Durant has done his part and is scoring nearly 30 PPG, but Booker has only played in two games this season due to toe, ankle, and calf injuries. And Beal just made his season debut on Tuesday night after dealing with back spasms. Frustrating, right?

But with KD holding down the fort, Beal finally back, and Booker’s return hopefully imminent, we might finally see what this new Big Three looks like—and see the Suns return to the top of the Western Conference standings.

Salvage the Season?

That brings us to the Arizona Cardinals, mired at the bottom of the league standings with a 1-8 record. To be fair, this team has been hit hard by injuries and has seen mostly anonymous players like Joshua Dobbs, Emari Demercado, and K’Von Wallace play way more than expected.

But the Redbirds’ stars are returning to try to salvage what is left of the season. Now, the term “star” is a bit relative when it comes to the Cardinals, as we don’t have any players with the megawatt star appeal of Book/KD or even Corbin Carroll. But Kyler Murray, James Conner, and Budda Baker are all Pro Bowl players who have missed huge chunks of the season. This team definitely wouldn’t be 1-8 with them in the fold.

One of these guys is already back. Baker returned to the field in Week 7 after missing five games with a hamstring injury. His return was much needed for a secondary that had been stretched thin without him. Conner was just designated to return from IR and could play as soon as Sunday against the Falcons. Cardinals RBs have averaged just 62 YPG since Conner injured his knee—his return is desperately needed.

Then of course there’s Kyler. Joshua Dobbs gave us… adequate QB play before looking like a Pro Bowler after we traded him to Minnesota, but it was clear that the offense’s ceiling was capped with him at the helm. Then the bottom fell out completely last week Clayton Tune made his ~long-awaited~ first career start… and was promptly throttled by Cleveland’s defense.

But now Kyler is back and we can finally start to see what Monti Ossenfort, Jonathan Gannon, and Drew Petzing have in mind for this team. Upgrading from the likes of Dobbs and Tune to a two-time Pro Bowler like Kyler can’t be understated—even if he is a bit rusty out of the gate.

I’m truly excited to see what this team looks like with Kyler, Conner, and Budda all on the field. We certainly won’t be a good team—the roster still has far too many holes—but we’ll at least be more watchable than what we’ve seen over the past few weeks. It’ll be good to have some star power back on the field.

Final Thoughts

But what if our trio of stars can’t salvage the season after all? Well, then we’ll likely have the #1 pick in the NFL draft, another 1st-rounder hopefully in the top half of the round, and a GM who has shown he knowns how to maneuver around a draft board. If Kyler, Conner, and Budda can’t cut it, then maybe the likes of Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison Jr. (in a dream scenario, obviously) would be our next crop of stars and take the team to new heights. So we’re basically playing with house money for the rest of the season. If we win we win and if we lose we still win. You gotta love it.

Time to weigh in, Valley sports fans. Does it feel like the stars are finally starting to align for you? Are you looking forward to seeing the Cardinals’ Pro Bowlers all back on the field? Any thoughts on the D-backs or Suns? Let it all out in the comments.