Diamondbacks partying like it's 2007
The Arizona Diamondbacks are partying like it's 2007.
Remember that season? The D-backs, in Sedona Red for the first time, won 92 games and the National League West crown with smoke and mirrors - and a little pitching.
That team, if you recall, was outscored by 20 runs over
the course of the season and was led by the
as hell always hustling Eric Byrnes on offense
and CY Young candidate Brandon Webb on the mound.
While they were the big names (and Orlando Hudson the All-Star), it was a bullpen that won games, as well as saved them, that led the team to heights not seen since.
Juan Cruz, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten, Jose Valverde. Once the game was put in their hands the game was over, meaning all Webb, Doug Davis, Livan Hernandez, Micah Owings or whatever starter toed the rubber that day had to do was pitch about six strong innings. Do that, leave the game, watch the ‘pen go to work and lock it down. A team that can shorten a game, so to speak, is one that can hide a lot of deficiencies, which is exactly what happened four years ago.
They're doing it again.
I think back to something pitcher Joe Saunders said after the Diamondbacks rallied for a win over the Braves last week, when I asked him about the team's starting pitching being a motivating factor for the rest of the team to play well. After all, a starter keeping the team in the game gives the bats more time to wake up and score some runs.
"Baseball's a funny thing," he said. "It seems like what makes the good teams good teams is that when the hitting isn't really clicking on all cylinders the pitching picks it up and when the pitching isn't clicking on all cylinders the hitters pick it up."
That confidence was missing the last few seasons -- with good reason -- but for now seems to have returned to Chase Field, and its importance cannot be overstated.
Ian Kennedy, much to his chagrin, has emerged as an ace, and Daniel Hudson isn't far behind. While not on the level of a Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling duo, one could make a case for Kennedy/Hudson over Webb/Davis, which is what Arizona rocked the last time they won the division.
You know why Armando Galarraga's struggles were such a big deal? His poor pitching really stood out as the rest of the staff started to turn its season around. The team expects to win games now, and it begins each game with the starting pitcher.
And it finishes with the bullpen.
Not since 2007 have the roles not only been defined, but filled with guys capable of performing well on a consistent basis. Since dealing Valverde in a cost-cutting move the Diamondbacks have blown through closers like their closers have blown saves. Brandon Lyon, Chad Qualls, Tony Pena, Jon Rauch, Juan Gutierrez and Aaron Heilman all had their shot, but each one found a way to fall apart when the team needed them most. The impact of each and every late-inning collapse could be seen every time a call to the bullpen was made. Close games got away from the D- backs in a hurry, and on the off chance they had a lead it would likely vanish the second a reliever took the mound. If the fans felt the game was about to slip away you better believe the players did too.
Enter David Hernandez and J.J. Putz. Game over.
Hernandez has looked every part the setup man and Putz is 12 for 12 in save opportunities. Not only do these guys shorten the game by two innings, but things rarely get interesting on their watch.
Will the Diamondbacks make a playoff push? Let's not get ahead of ourselves; they're only a .500 ball club. But even thinking of the possibility is a welcome change of pace for a team that has experienced very little success in recent years, and no matter what happens the rest of this season it seems the foundation is being set for what will be a good team for years to come.