Dbacks Battle Giants For NL West
The Battered and Bruised Defending World Series Champions Have Experienced A Run Of Bad Luck So Far in 2011
By Bob Goodwood
Special For Modern Times Magazine .com
June 14, 2011 — For the past two seasons, fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks have been subjected to the some of the worst baseball ever played in the major leagues.
Strikeout records (the batting kind) and stratospheric ERAs (especially of the bullpen kind) made fans in all of the world hide their Dbacks jerseys in the closet. Attendance dropped at Chase Field and all of the good karma built with fans after the disaster of 2005 evaporated.
But this week, the San Francisco Giants are rolling into Chase Field and will face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-game series for first place in the National League West.
My, how times can change, and sometimes for the better.
A year ago, the Diamondbacks stood at 28-36 and were 11.5 games behind the first place San Diego Padres. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were a half-game back, tied for second place. This year, though, the Diamondbacks are 37-30 and within striking distance of the defending World Series champion Giants.
The so-called ‘experts’ thought the Diamondbacks would be lucky to approach 75 wins but so far, they are on pace to win nearly 90 games. That would be a 25-game swing from 2010.
Sure, the Giants are the defending champions and are at the top of the division, but they have found little of the luck that they had in 2010. Everyone knows they have missed Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval when they spent time on the disabled list, but they might have also lost their best singles-hitter, Freddy Sanchez, for the season after he dislocated his shoulder this past weekend.
But not only are the big bats going down for the Giants, but it seems like everyone but Lincecum has spent some time on the DL this year. In 2010, only 13 Giants went on the disabled list. This year, they have already put 12 guys on the DL. Sandoval is expected to be on the field this week against the Diamondbacks, however, in a stroke of luck for the ‘boys by the bay.’
The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, have all of their mojo working. Infused with strength and will from Manager Kirk Gibson and new General Manager Kevin Towers, the team has managed to avoid the injury bug to the most vital components on the squad while improving in virtually every statistical area.
Players like Stephen Drew and Justin Upton are arguably having the best years of their careers. Drew is chasing .300 and has an OPS rivalled only by the .874 he put up in his first 59 games in 2006.
Upton might again replicate his remarkable 2009 when he hit .300, knocked 26 home runs and drove in 86. His .273 batting average is about the same as it was last season, but it appears his power has returned. The best part about the still developing game of the 23-year-old outfielder might be that his on-base percentage has increased to .364 thanks to cutting down a bit on the strikeouts. If he progresses a bit, he might strikeout only 100 times this year — he has 52 so far in 2011.
The on-field and front-office staff have also hit ‘home runs’ all year. Coming into the season, the biggest holes that needed to be filled from last season was first base, left field and the pitching staff.
The bullpen was stabilized with J.J. Putz and he has gone 18 for 20 in save attempts with a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings. Newly acquired David Hernandez, the main piece in the Mark Reynolds deal, has a 3.00 ERA in 31 innings. Ian Kennedy and Danial Hudson have surprised some with their consistently good efforts, Joe Saunders has been a back-end guy and Josh Collmenter has been exceptional. His tomahawk-like throwing motion might have saved the season after Barry Enright and Armando Gallaraga couldn't get it done.
The first base situation might be uncomfortable for ‘experts’ and fans alike because when a guy doesn’t play everyday, it confuses. But the Diamondbacks have gotten regular production from that position, no matter if Juan Miranda or Xavier Nady are at the bag. Miranda has left every indication that he is a prototypical major league first baseman and that he will have a nice career.
It just might not be with the Diamondbacks because of that guy in Mobile. Paul Goldschmidt is looking like the real deal for the future and it is having an impact on Miranda’s playing time. By highlighting his strengths and hiding his weaknesses the Diamondbacks might package him for another arm or two down the stretch. Besides, Nady’s bat is vital to manufacturing runs. He has the ability to slap a breaking pitch the other way or the experience to launch a sacrifice fly when the team needs it.
Nady’s defensive skill set right now is more suited for the first base role anyway thanks to his twice-reconstructed right elbow. Gerardo Parra is plus defender as was in evidence in the series finale against the Marlins when he gunned down Emilio Bonifacio at the plate.
When the team is assessed as a whole — engaged players getting results in the field, on the mound and in the box — how can a Diamondbacks fan not get excited about a series for first place in mid-June?
Collmenter will face Matt Cain Tuesday, Joe Saunders will take on Madison Bumgarner Wednesday and Ian Kennedy will take on Chris Vogelsong in the finale.