Noble in defeat, D-backs make huge strides
Leaping from worst to first, Arizona primed for future success
MILWAUKEE -- The postseason ended in disappointment for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but their overall performance in 2011 added up to a major success.
The D-backs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, in 10 innings Friday night in Game 5 of their National League Division Series. It was a dramatic, well-played contest -- a classic postseason baseball game.
"I'm not happy to be on this end of it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "Yet I'm proud of my team, and they played true to the way they played all year. I think it was a good, classic baseball game."
The D-backs demonstrated their abilities in this series, even in defeat. They have a stable rotation -- led by a 21-game winner, Ian Kennedy. They have a deep and reliable bullpen -- anchored by a veteran closer, J.J. Putz. Their lineup has power and speed and depth. The power was particularly apparent in this NLDS, in which the D-backs hit 10 home runs, leading all eight postseason teams in that category.
No matter what happened in this NLDS, this has been a season of dramatic improvement that added up to a transformation for Arizona.
The D-backs made their point about not only their talent, but their character. Two games down to the Brewers, Arizona responded with two victories, forcing a decisive Game 5.
If the end was disappointing for this club, the distance it traveled this season was somewhere between astounding and amazing.
Worst to first describes it, but doesn't quite say enough. The D-backs lost 97 games in 2010, putting up the second worst record in the league. This season, they went 94-68, winning the NL West by eight games. They made tangible strides. They also were markedly improved in intangible areas.
What this club needed was an injection of belief in itself. Starter Joe Saunders, who came over in a trade from the Angels in the middle of the 2010 season, said of the atmosphere: "When I came over, just the vibe in the locker room at the time was just poop, really."
But even as early as Spring Training, Gibson had a deep and abiding belief in his team. And he successfully passed that along.
"Why show up if you don't believe in yourselves?" Gibson said. "You lay out a vision, a philosophy of how you want to accomplish a certain goal, and then you believe that you can get everybody to pull together. We were able to do that."
Not only the talent, but the character of this team became apparent. The D-backs led the Majors in come-from-behind victories, with 48. They made a lasting impression on the opposition.
After Game 5, center fielder Nyjer Morgan was one of several Brewers who sincerely praised the Arizona club.
"Hats off to the D-backs," Morgan said. "Their players in general, their coaching staff, they've got a heck of a team over there. Gibby has done a good job with that ballclub, with that young ballclub. And just hats off to those boys over there."
Gibson, while regretting the outcome of this series, was able to put the progress of his club into perspective.
"We've come a long way," the manager said. "We set goals in the beginning of the year; unfortunately, we didn't get all the way there. We talked about changing the culture and what does it mean to be a Diamondback.
"And I just told these guys that they should be proud, because they've set the stage and the standard for how we want to play, and they've done it all year."
Gibson's work should be rewarded with the NL Manager of the Year Award. Beyond that, there is little question that the 2011 D-backs have built a foundation for future success. The large strides that they took this season could be just the beginning of that success.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.