|D-Backs Pitching Reason for Surprising Season||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 08, 2011
Heading into this season, the outlook seemed quite bleak for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team was coming off a last-place finish in the NL West at 65-97, the worst record in the league besides the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Though the team had a new general manager in Kevin Towers and removed the interim basis for manager Kirk Gibson, the D'Backs roster moves made it look like the season would be over before it started.
Rather than splurge on free agents with money they didn't have, the Diamondbacks brought in veteran players that other teams deemed as washed-up -- J.J. Putz, Geoff Blum, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Willie Bloomquist, Henry Blanco and Zach Duke, not exactly a class that wows anyone.
Basically, the only bright spots heading into this season for Arizona were the continued development of Stephen Drew, Daniel Hudson and Miguel Montero.
However, the team has come together nicely under Gibson and finds itself in first place in the NL West after 60 games. The team already has more than half as many wins as last year with still 100 games to play.
A 15-3 stretch to close out May has put the D'Backs in the position they're in. With very few teams pulling away in their respective divisions, this is the perfect time for Arizona to go on a run to establish itself as one of the teams to beat in the NL.
But just exactly how has a team without a .300 hitter or a player in the top-10 of the major offensive categories sustained this torrid streak?
The answer is simple: pitching, but more importantly, pitching depth.
Normally if a team begins the season with Ian Kennedy as the staff ace, panic would set in rather quickly. However, Kennedy has been the backbone of a young D'Backs staff that keeps winning. He's 6-2 with 3.16 ERA through 12 starts.
Josh Collmenter has been a terrific find for Arizona. After starting the year in the bullpen, he's now made five starts and is 4-1 record with 1.25 ERA.
Though he's not off to the same start he had last season, Hudson has still been a steady starter. At 6-5 with a 4.22 ERA, he will look to hit his stride as the season progresses. While Joe Saunders has struggled, fellow lefty Duke has impressed in his two starts.
This five-man staff is an eclectic mix, but the bullpen has been a real treat for the D'Backs.
Putz has been lights out as the team's closer, saving 17-of-18 opportunities with a 1.80 ERA.
The names Sam Demel, David Hernandez, Esmerling Vazquez and Joe Paterson mean very little to even the most die-hard baseball fanatic. However, these four relievers have been major contributors to Arizona's success in providing a bridge to Putz. Paterson leads the way with a 0.66 ERA in 24 appearances.
The offense has done just enough to scratch out close victories. Chris Young, Justin Upton and Kelly Johnson each have double-digit home runs, but no one is having a monster year. This just goes to show that timely hitting rather than the accumulation of stats is what wins ballgames.
Gibson has done a fine job in utilizing the pieces he has to maximize each player's value. If the team keeps winning the next two months, it may find itself in a position to be buyers near the trade deadline.
Arizona could possibly look to add a veteran starting pitcher and maybe a bat at one of the corner infield positions. If the team continues to play well, however, Towers may not mess with what's working.
To maintain this run, the D'Backs will hope for more quality performances out of its pitching staff. Hitters go through hot and cold streaks, but it's consistent pitching that wins championships.
Gibson is known for his October heroics, but leading one of baseball's worst teams last year to the playoffs this year could rival his memorable swing in the 1988 World Series.