Diamondbacks Celebrate Playoff Run
“We’re pleased with how the season turned out,” announced General Manager Jay Schlegel at the traditional post-season press conference. “We would rather still be playing, of course, but taking the Giants to a game-5 in the Divisional Series is nothing to be ashamed of either. And with where we were at the beginning of September, we’ll take a trip to game-5 of the Divisional Series all day every day.”
Despite a season-ending injury to front-line starter Josh Beckett down the stretch, the Diamondbacks clawed back from a 5-game deficit in the wildcard race in late August to force a 1-game tiebreaker with a win on the final day of the regular season. Much of the credit for the stretch run can be given to a likely source as well as a very unlikely one: CF Mark Baker and SP Koryusai Jouda. Baker turned in another solid regular season which should give him MVP consideration: .289/.356/.567, 37 HR, 94 RBI, and a major-league-best 75 stolen bases; down the stretch, Baker belted 21 HR and drove in 41 RBI in August/September. Meanwhile Jouda, who had been relegated to the bullpen and reportedly couldn’t even be given away in trade just a month earlier, earned the nickname “Mr. September” down the stretch: 5-1, 1.49 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in six starts. Jouda pitched the team to victory on the season’s final Sunday. “As hard as it is for many to believe, including myself, we don’t make the playoffs without Koryusai,” said Schlegel.
Arizona (87-76) then survived its tiebreaker play-in game against Atlanta: Kyle Drabeck (13-14) allowed 2 runs in seven innings and three D-backs belted homers in a 5-3 victory. The D-backs then bested Washington in the Wildcard game: Tim Stauffer tossed a 5-hit shutout in a 7-0 romp. The reward? A rematch with division champion San Francisco.
Despite finishing 20-games behind the Giants (with most of that ground lost after the All Star break), the D-backs had held their own in the regular season series, going 10-11. And the series got off to a rousing start, with Arizona routing Cy Young contender Tim Lincecum, 10-4. The Giants won the next two, 5-0 and 4-3, putting the series on the brink, but Arizona rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 and force game-5. But injuries in the bullpen ended up costing the team in the end: All Star closer Joel Zumaya was injured and left off the series roster and key setup man Mike Dunn came down with the flu before the final game. Arizona fell just short despite a solid start from Trevor Cahill, losing 4-3 after carrying a slim 2-1 lead into the sixth inning.
Heading into the off-season, the Diamondbacks are in better shape financially thanks to their solid playoff run. Now GM Schlegel will get down to the task of handling his first round of off-season moves and contract negotiations. “We made the playoffs so there aren’t a great many holes that we’re looking to fill,” said Schlegel. “Nonetheless, look for several changes as we hope to improve ourselves for next season.”