Kirk Gibson Has Dbacks In Swagger Mode
Amid Predictions of Failure From The Experts Entering the Season, The Arizona Diamondbacks are Competing And Surprising
Manager Kirk Gibson has the Arizona Diamondbacks miles ahead of where they were last year.
By Bob Goodwood
Special for Modern Times Magazine .com
April 12, 2011 — Almost ten games into the baseball season, one thing is clear: the Arizona Diamondbacks are not nearly as bad as they were last season.
They might even be good, eventually.
While General Manager Kevin Towers deserves some of the credit for the turn around, Manager Kirk Gibson has infused his team with the passion and drive he displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career.
It has been most vividly evident in the way he has gotten players to elevate their games and for the whole team to play hard until the last out. Even in the loss to the Cardinals Monday night, they were in it until the ninth inning.
They came out on Opening Day and whooped up on the Rockies in Denver in a game that was big for two reasons. One, starting the year out on a good note was vital for a team with an untested psyche. And, without that win, they would have started the year 0-4. Another heap of luck was showered on them by the snow-out in the rubber match.
Their play in Chicago, while not impressive, showed they were going to “grind” and fight. Although they came up short in the first two games of that series, they stuck with it and had a big win in the finale.
Then came the home opener and an all around great win against the Reds. Their intent to play a full nine innings was solidly on display. Then in the finale Sunday, they put the big exclamation point on their progress from last season. The statement was so profound because it revealed that the team would not only play hard for a full nine innings when they were winning, but when they were losing, too. It had been years since Diamondbacks fans had seen not one, but two comebacks in one game.
Sure, Gibson is not out there. His players have to execute and deliver. Willie Bloomquist has had the week of his career. Up the middle every time. Stealing bases. They guy has played like a new millennium Ty Cobb for a week or so.
Chris Young had a huge home run in the finale against the Reds and hit a rope against the Cardinals that would have tied it in the later innings. Chris Young as a clutch hitter seems like a miracle to many, but seeing is believing.
J.J. Putz (pronounced ‘puts’, not ‘puhts’) is three-for-three on save attempts.
Winning and losing at the big league level is as much about state-of-mind than it is about athletic ability. Everyone who reaches AAA has athletic ability. How a player handles pressure situations and adapts to change is the difference between a AAAA minor leaguer and a star. Gibson keeps telling his guys they can do it. He is a manager that has the respect of his team because they know he believes in them. If he didn’t, they wouldn’t be on his team.
The results, so far are an even record, probably where the Diamondbacks will most likely hover over the first half. But it is still early and the wheels are definitely capable of falling off and sending the Diamondbacks tumbling into the NL West cellar.
This team is still vulnerable defensively. Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy are studs and Barry Enright is still searching to make adjustments. Saunders is a riddle. The bullpen and fielding remain the biggest weaknesses, although the ‘pen is still much stronger with Putz at the back and and Hernandez in the eight inning.
But if Gibson and his Hall-of-Fame staff can continue to motivate the team to play with the intensity displayed over the first week or so, they have a chance at hovering near .500 through June. The schedule gets substantially easier in mid-May.
Add a piece or two after the All-Star game in Phoenix (don’t party too hard, boys) and supply another dash of Gibson grit, and they might just push for a wild card berth come September.
But even if they don't, they at least won't quit.