So here we are, at the end of another season of baseball. The Diamondbacks are pretty much where most of us expected that they would be at this point: playing irrelevant games at the end of September while we all wait for the season to mercifully end so that we can move onto other things.
I mean, maybe we didn't know that reason the games would be irrelevant would be that the Diamondbacks have already clinched a playoff spot. And maybe we didn't realize that the "other things" we would be moving on to would include "playoff baseball" rather than "watching football/crocheting/low-level arson/whatever you people do in the offseason," but that all feels like splitting hairs to me.
Seriously though, this Diamondback team. I pegged them for 74 wins at the beginning of the season and, quite frankly, I felt like I was being pretty generous with that prediction. The offense was roughly league-average in 2010, and even that was based largely on unsustainable BABIP seasons from Chris Young and Kelly Johnson, not to mention 57 home runs from corner infielders who were going to be replaced with a veteran-flavored wad of chewing gum.
Ian Kennedy had had a nice season in 2010, but a BABIP-aided 3.8 ERA doesn't really scream "top of the rotation." Well, not to anyone other than Kirk Gibson, who put him in that spot simply because he didn't have any better options. The bullpen would be better, of course, but two new relievers wouldn't make or break a season. I thought they would fall out of the race early, sell off some parts at the trade deadline, and have one of those quietly good stretches in August and September that no one notices except for the die-hards. I thought it would be a long season.
Instead, they fell out of the race early...and then climbed back into it. And as they did, slowly but surely all of the questions surrounding this team have been answered, either by existing players who have stepped up, or players we hadn't even considered (who had Ryan Roberts and Paul Goldschimdt as our starting corner infielders? Anyone?). They've gone 78-44 since May 13, almost a 104-win pace. Overall, this team has already secured the third-best record in franchise history. In the process, the team has transformed from a potential last-place outfit with a mediocre offense, crappy pitching, and an "explosive" bullpen, to a team with a talented but gritty offense with a knack for comebacks, a fantastic top of the rotation, and just enough bullpen depth to skirt danger. It's been amazing to watch.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
I guess I should probably mention the Dodgers in here too. I mean, it doesn't really matter, since this series is irrelevant, but I guess I did sort of promise in the title. They've essentially done what I expected the Diamondbacks to do, falling out of the race early before putting together a nice stretch at the end of the season to give the few fans still watching hope for next season. They've gone 23-9 since August 21st, pushing their record above .500 for the first time since late April. This seemed almost unthinkable about a month ago. The Dodgers are still a very flawed team, but depending on how their winter goes, they could end up being a contender in 2012.
2. , LF
4. , C
Chris Young, CF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Does it matter? We probably won't see either of these lineups, since the Diamondbacks are trying to keep people healthy, and the Dodgers are trying to play rookies. We'll see Cole Gillespie chasing fly balls hit by Tim Federowicz. This isn't baseball, not really, just a sort of weird waiting room where the Diamondbacks and Dodgers have to hang out and make awkward eye contact while flipping through issues of Time from 2006 before they each go to their respective appointments. Except for Matt Kemp, who might have an MVP award hanging in the balance.
Monday: Daniel Hudson (16-11, 3.43) vs. Dana Eveland (2-2, 3.75)
Insightful Commentary: In many ways, it's been a rough season for Daniel Hudson. He was never going to replicate the second half of 2010, where he introduced himself to D-Back fans by posting a 1.71 ERA, but we could always hope. Instead, his strikeout rate dropped, his line-drive rate rose, and his numbers fell back to earth again. Yet, at the end of the day, his ERA is still under 3.5, his FIP is almost identical to what it was in 2010 for the Diamondbacks, and most importantly, he's the number-two starter on a playoff team. He doesn't have video-game numbers any more, but that's okay. I prefer actual baseball players to video games anyway.
Apparently Dana Eveland is a Dodger now, which I definitely didn't know. He has had four starts in September, two that were good, and two that were not. He bounces from team to team, living on the margins and trying to stay afloat by always looking for the next job. Kind of like Captain Malcolm Reynolds, if Captain Reynolds had a career K/9 of under 6.
Tuesday: Jarrod Parker (0-0, 0.00) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (13-16, 3.17)
Insightful Commentary: So, this has been a long time coming. During the dark days of '09 and '10, Jarrod Parker was a beacon of hope, shining from South Bend and Mobile. Though Parker's road to the majors has been derailed several times by injury and wildness, there's no denying his stuff. For this reason, he was supposed to be the future, the ace of The Next Great Diamondback Team. In a way, it feels oddly symbolic that he's making a spot start in last series for a great Diamondback team that arrived sooner than anyone expected.
This may be the last time we ever see Hiroki Kuroda, as he's considering returning to Japan after this season. I, for one, am going to miss his sub-3.5 ERA for a division rival. Wait, no, I'm not going to miss it at all, which is a very high compliment, of course.
Wednesday: Joe Saunders (12-12, 3.58) vs. Ted Lilly (11-14, 4.12)
Insightful Commentary: Hey, it's that thrilling pitching matchup again! For the Diamondbacks, I have to think it's a good omen that they're facing Ted Lilly on the eve of the playoffs, given what this team did to Lilly the last time they made the playoffs. As for the Dodgers, I'm sure their fans feel like a Joe Saunders/Ted Lilly pillow fight is the only way a season like 2011 could end.
Final Verdict: How should I know? A lot the starters are sitting, so this might just feel like a weirdly-timed Spring Training game. Ah, whatever. Diamondbacks two games to one. PLAYOFFS!
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