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Diamondbacks History: 2011 Turnaround

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers
Josh Collmenter on the mound during his first career start, which helped key the Diamondbacks comeback in 2011
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

With so much pessimism surrounding the Diamondbacks, it makes a certain degree of sense to look back at the last time the Diamondbacks won the NL West. In 2011, the team had fewer expectations than in 2016, but in both years, they got off to a disappointing start. To be fair, the 2011 team didn't sink as low or as quickly as the 2016 team has. (Their low point was only seven games under .500, and it came in mid-May. The 2016 low point has been nine games under .500, and that was after June 1st. Also, the 2011 team was only 6.5 games back at the furthest point, which was the end of April.)

How did the 2011 Diamondbacks find themselves down? The story should look familiar. The offense wasn't at fault; in fact, April was one of the better offensive months on the season, in terms of production at the plate. The team posted a wRC+ of 101 and hit 30 home runs. Part of this was due to the unexpected early season performance of Ryan Roberts, who hit 5, trailing only Chris Young on the team (and tied with Justin Upton.) The problem was the pitching. In April 2011, only Ian Kennedy had an ERA only 4, or, for that matter, under 5. The pitching staff underperformed so badly that the second best ERA on the staff belonged to Armando Galarraga, who would be pulled from the rotation shortly thereafter in favor of Josh Collmenter. Nor was this bad luck; three of the five rotation members had a FIP over 5 as well, with Daniel Hudson posting the best FIP of the rotation. In general, the pitching staff was walking people, was giving up home runs, and wasn't pitching deep into games. In other words, exactly what we have seen in 2016.

A look at the full season numbers shows exactly what happened. Kennedy continued to pitch well. Hudson's ERA came down to his FIP, and he posted the best season of his career. Josh Collmenter was lights-out after joining the rotation. The Diamondbacks also got some surprising performances from unexpected places. Zach Duke was average when needed to fill in. Wade Miley pitched well when called up. The combination of Duke, Miley, and Barry Enright was certainly a worse fifth starter than Robbie Ray, but the fact that they managed to be at least average most of the time they took the mound (as starters) provided key support.

David Hernandez provided stability to the bullpen and a key link to J.J. Putz. Brad Ziegler joined the team as a guy who could get key outs. Joe Paterson did well from the left side. While the offense didn't quite maintain their April production (full season wRC+ was 97) they were consistent enough that with the improved pitching, the Diamondbacks clinched the NL West with some time to spare.

The 2016 Diamondbacks do have the pieces to do the same. Archie Bradley looks ready to play the role Josh Collmenter did in 2011, of the young pitcher called up who becomes essentially a valuable #3 starter. Zack Greinke looks kind of like Daniel Hudson did early in 2011, with his ERA well over his FIP. If the pitching staff can turn it around like the 2011 pitching staff did, there's still reason to suspect the team could go on a winning streak and make up similar ground to what they did in 2011, even though it is a couple weeks later into the season. After all, the players are better. The offense is better.

The problem is that the Diamondbacks do not need to make up 6.5 games. They need to make up 10 games. They are not 7 games under .500, they were 9 games under .500. The other issue is that the top teams in the NL West, the Giants and the Dodgers, are likely both better than the 2011 versions of those teams. (Yes, the Padres and the Rockies are likely worse. But it will be more difficult to overhaul the Giants in particular this year than in 2016.) The Diamondbacks have worked themselves into a position where they both need to turn things around and need the teams ahead of them to collapse. It's certainly not impossible; such things have happened in baseball. It is simply highly improbable.

What would it take? At the low point of the 2011 season, the Diamondbacks tossed the ball to Josh Collmenter, and making his first start of his career, in Dodger Stadium, he tossed six shutout innings in a 1-0 victory. This may not have been a spark, necessarily, but it was the start of something. Tomorrow, Archie Bradley faces the Cubs in Wrigley Field, in a series that looks impossible for the Diamondbacks to win, but which they must if they wish to salvage any sort of respectability. He'll be followed on Saturday by Edwin Escobar. If the Diamondbacks want to get back into contention, perhaps Collmenter should share the story of his first start with Bradley and Escobar, and hopefully they can be inspired to pitch the Diamondbacks past the Cubs, somehow.

It's not probable. It's bordering on the impossible. But it is possible. History shows that it can be done, but someone (other than Zack Greinke) has to step forward. It's time.