09/30/11 7:00 PM ET
Success starts on mound for D-backs, Brewers
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
"You know, when I got announced Opening Day starter, I was really happy," he said. "That gave me the opportunity and showed that they had the confidence in me to do that and go against some of the No. 1 guys this year."It's been fun, a really fun year, just because I feel like as a team we've had a great, great group of guys behind me. Also in our starting rotation and pitching, everybody, all 1 through 25, was awesome to play with. Even guys we called up. We've got great guys with Aaron Hill and [John] McDonald and [Lyle] Overbay, just adding guys. We added some good, I guess good team character, and team guys." Plus, the D-backs rebuilt their bullpen, which was a particular problem area in 2010. The primary success story here is supplied by closer J.J.Putz, who has regained the top-shelf form he had with Seattle in 2007. The D-backs signed Putz to a two-year, $10 million deal that now looks like an absolute bargain. The Brewers did some extensive renovation on their pitching staff, as well. They traded prospects for Zack Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, and Shaun Marcum, who had success with Toronto while pitching against difficult AL East opposition. Greinke got a late start due to a cracked rib suffered in a pickup basketball game, but he proved his value by going 11-0 at home. The Brewers were so enthused about his home record that they will start him in Game 2 of this Series on short rest. Marcum put together a very solid season. With emerging ace Gallardo and veteran Randy Wolf, the Brewers also have a worthy postseason rotation. The Brewers also fortified their bullpen with the addition of Takashi Saito. After they had eighth-inning problems early in the season, they traded for Francisco Rodriguez, holder of the single-season save record. With Milwaukee, Rodriguez became the eighth-inning setup man, while closer John Axford ran off 43 straight successful save opportunities. Gallardo, 25, started Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS against Philadelphia. The Phillies went on to win the World Series. Gallardo took the loss in that game, but over seven innings, he did not give up an earned run. On several levels, Gallardo is in a better situation as this season's Game 1 starter. "In 2008, it was my second start coming back after knee surgery," Gallardo said on Friday. "Obviously, you know, I was very excited in 2008 and had a lot of adrenaline going on. But yet again, back of my mind, what if I have to field a bunt or something, it wasn't 100 percent. "Now this year, I'm very excited. I'm looking forward to it. And also I was able to pitch for this team the whole year, which is also I look at it as a privilege." And these clubs have been privileged to have the kind of pitching that makes winning divisions possible. They have made dramatic improvements in their pitching this season. These improvements have been so dramatic that they have brought these teams all the way into October, as full-fledged members of baseball's version of the Elite Eight.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.