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Despite NLCS Loss, Diamondbacks Won

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Kirk Gibson was a vital part of changing the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With The Game Five Loss A Mere Week In The Past, Expectations For Next Year Are Already Growing

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By Bob Goodwood
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 12, 2011 — At the end of game five of the National League Division Series last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks were a base away from becoming the first National League team to come back to win from a two games to none deficit.

Unfortunately, a few ground balls later, the stage was set for the unthinkable to happen: the team’s veteran leadership failed at the most crucial of times. No one can blame them because it is just baseball and sometimes giving up a passed ball and a weak ground ball up the middle might just cost you a ball game.

But it is ironic that the 2011 season — one thought as “Dead on Arrival” by most experts and pundits — was lost while JJ Putz was on the mound and Henry Blanco was behind the plate in game 5 of the NLDS.

It happens.

So the Brewers go on to play the hottest team in baseball right now. The Diamondbacks get to preparing for next year.

As those preparations begin, one thing is clear: no pundit will be picking them to finish last in 2012. They have finally sold the league and they are destined to be the flavor of the month in March and April.

In short, they are targeted for success.

Prolonged success, though, is even harder than succeeding in the first place — just ask the San Francisco Giants, the consensus pick to repeat as National League West champions after 2010. Since 2000 only two teams have won back-to-back NL West crowns: the 2002 and 2003 San Francisco Giants and the 2005 and 2006 San Diego Padres.

Those Giants teams had the Barry Bonds show to drive it and the Padres — led by Kevin Towers — won it with 82 and 88 wins when the NL West was referred to as the NL Worst. Heck, the Dbacks finished second in 2005 with 77 wins.

But the Diamondbacks do have a distinct advantage over the 2010 Giants when looking to repeat. While the Giants had a plethora of young pitching studs and a few veteran bats that got them the World Series crown in 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks have young pitching and hitting along with the depth that gives them a chance to sustain it.

With Aubrey Huff not producing, then losing Buster Posey for the season while Pablo Sandoval and Pat Burrell battled injuries, the Giants did not have the offense to support Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez in 2011.

Although the Diamondbacks lost Stephen Drew for the season and plenty of guys battled through injuries, none of the major cogs in the machine missed significant time. And, when Drew went down, Towers had the depth in the system — Willie Bloomquist, Cody Ransom — and went out and got John McDonald for insurance.

They were smart and lucky.

For all of the good will and strength that the team has built in 2011, a rash of injuries can derail any team. But depth can mitigate that to a certain extent and in the case of the pitching staff, that is shaping up to once again be the biggest factor heading into the 2012 regular season.

Barring injury, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson go back into 2012 as the No. 1 and 2 starters. After that is where it gets a bit murky. Josh Collmenter, thanks to a solid rookie campaign and a huge start in game three of the NLDS looks like the No. 3. The odd-man-out appears to be Joe Saunders because he is due a raise on his 2010 $5 million and thanks to his inconsistent results.

Although Saunders pitched a gem in the NL West clincher, he absolutely laid an egg in game four of the NLDS. Besides, there are a plethora of young starting pitching prospects pushing him, including Wade Miley, who was respectable in limited stars down the stretch, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer and of course, Jarrod Parker.

Both Miley and Skaggs are left handers, which does not bode well for Saunders when the Diamondbacks consider whether to pay him this winter. Most likely, Miley, Bauer, Skaggs and Parker will compete for the two starting slots entering spring training.

The bullpen is locked up for 2012 as well — JJ Putz and David Hernandez solidify the back end. Bryan Shaw and Ryan Cook were pleasant surprises as well as Joe Patterson. Micah Owings looks to come back, too. Expect Towers to find another gem or two to strengthen this squad for next year although no big splash, just results come summer.

Newcomer Aaron Hill and the infield, though might see some new faces. Phenom Paul Goldschmidt seems ensconced at first base, but Hill is a free-agent and it is unknown if he will be back. Drew is expected to be ready by the beginning of the season and it will be interesting to see if he has regained his range on defense. Otherwise, there is not a pure shortstop on the team — John McDonald and his light bat excluded.

If his range is impacted, Drew might make a nice fit at third or second base, especially if Hill leaves. Most of that would probably be decided by his range and where Ryan Roberts ends up since he, too, can play both third and second.

But as the Arizona Diamondbacks organization proved in 2011, believing and hard work can take you far.

Consistently winning, though, that is even harder.

Is it March yet?

Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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