09/29/11 10:56 AM ET
Ten reasons the D-backs reached October
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
After watching the team struggle through a sloppy March, there was even more reason to doubt.
Yet, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson never wavered in his faith that his team would somehow find a way. In the end, the skipper was rewarded for his faith as the D-backs captured their fifth division title in the franchise's 14 years.
Here's a look at 10 reasons the D-backs are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2007, and the second time since 2002.
Culture change: From the moment GM Kevin Towers told Gibson he would be the full-time manager just after the 2010 season, the pair began working in earnest to change the attitude and mindset in the clubhouse. Players that didn't fit in with the program were jettisoned as Towers filled the roster with gritty veterans. Meanwhile, Gibson set the tone early in Spring Training by banning cell phones and demanding more intense workout and preparation programs.
The result has been a more cohesive clubhouse than what existed under Gibson's predecessor, and a team that battles for 27 outs each and every night -- something that was evident even during the team's slow start.
Top of the rotation: Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson formed a potent one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and the close friends have continually pushed each other this season. The pair came up big in two crucial series against the Giants in San Francisco. In addition, veteran Joe Saunders has quietly put together a solid season in their shadows, providing quality innings and leadership.
Improved bullpen: The D-backs' bullpen in 2010 was bad, nearly historically bad. Its collective 5.74 ERA was the third-worst mark ever compiled. Towers, a renowned bullpen builder, made that his first priority. He signed closer J.J. Putz and acquired setup man David Hernandez from the Orioles. The pair has anchored a bullpen that has an ERA more than two runs better than last year's.
Justin Upton: An offseason conditioning program that focused on his core and strengthening his shoulders has helped Upton play in a career-high number of games, and that's good news for the D-backs. While Gibson likes to say there are plenty of contributors in the lineup, it is clear that as Upton goes, so goes the Arizona offense.
Josh Collmenter: The rookie right-hander provided a needed boost when he joined the rotation. Collmenter had a 1.05 ERA in his first six starts, which coincided with the stretch where the D-backs began their run to the top of the division. Though not on the radar at the start of the season, Collmenter proved to be a valuable No. 4 starter.
Ryan Roberts: Despite an outstanding spring, Roberts might not have made the roster had infielder Geoff Blum not gotten hurt. Roberts provided a spark early in the year and has given the D-backs solid offensive production at third base, while playing better-than-expected defense.
Willie Bloomquist: Signed to be a super-utility player, Bloomquist was forced into everyday action in April when shortstop Stephen Drew started the year on the disabled list. Bloomquist also got the initial playing time when Drew went down with a season-ending knee injury in July. His final numbers might not be gaudy, but his play in those two stretches was huge, as was his veteran leadership which helped set the tone during Spring Training.
Hill/McDonald trade: After watching his club lose six straight and struggle offensively, Towers dealt second baseman Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays in exchange for second baseman Aaron Hill and shortstop John McDonald. Hill provided an offensive spark while McDonald allowed Gibson to rest Bloomquist and keep him fresh as the D-backs won nine straight and 12 of 13 to put away the division following the deal.
Coaching staff: Towers and Gibson assembled a staff of former big league players who commanded instant respect from the players. Holdovers Glenn Sherlock and Matt Williams were joined by pitching coach Charles Nagy, hitting coach Don Baylor, bench coach Alan Trammell and first-base coach Eric Young. Gibson sought input from each member and encouraged them to share their thoughts and opinions throughout the year, which made for a cohesive staff.
One-hit win: The season was in danger of spiraling out of control on May 14 when Collmenter took the mound against Chad Billingsley at Dodger Stadium. The D-backs had lost five straight games -- all by one run -- and were in fourth place, seven games under .500. The D-backs were held to just one hit in the game, but it proved to be enough for a 1-0 win that started a 15-2 run that vaulted them to the top of the division.