No team in Major League Baseball has come so far so quickly as the Arizona Diamondbacks have over the past year.
The NL West's last place club in 2010, few could have predicted Arizona would reach the 2011 postseason as division champions.
Arizona's ride into the postseason ended too quickly, as the Diamondbacks lost to a Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun-led Milwaukee Brewers in a five-game NLDS.
Still, hopes are high for the Diamondbacks to repeat their 2011 success and reach the postseason once again.
Arizona's improbable 2011 run may be considered by some a Cinderella-style worst-to-first turnaround, but the traditional Cinderella story ends with a decidedly happier ending. In the baseball world, that means a trip to the World Series.
Arizona's Cinderella run might have began in 2011, but it won't end until the Diamondbacks are back in the Fall Classic, a feat that very well could occur in 2012.
These are 10 reasons why.
What makes the Diamondbacks' one-in-130,634 feat of hitting grand slams in four consecutive home games even more improbable is that the final two four-RBI dingers came during Games 3 and 4 of the 2011 NLDS with Milwaukee.
Prior to that, the Sept. 27 grand slam that started the improbable streak came during a late-season contest in which the Los Angeles Dodgers led the Diamondbacks by five runs heading into the bottom of the 10th inning.
ESPN's automated software gave the Dodgers a 99.6 percent chance of winning that ballgame, but the never-say-die Diamondbacks did not give up.
After a few men reached base and two of them came around to score, Ryan Roberts hit a walk-off grand slam to send Arizona into a frenzy.
Just try saying "no" to this club.
From his very first MLB at-bat (single) to his last appearance in the postseason, rookie Paul Goldschmidt impressed many fans in 2011, proving his ability and propensity to take on the role of future everyday first baseman in Arizona.
He represents a core of young Diamondbacks players ready to lead their team into the postseason again in 2012. Also, he has generated excitement amongst Arizona fans who might have been late to the 2011 party.
After all, Goldschmidt made his MLB debut on Aug. 1 against the San Francisco Giants, hitting his first MLB home run off Giants star Tim Lincecum a day later.
When Goldschmidt came on board, the baseball community buzzed with talks of October baseball in Arizona.
Just imagine what a full year with Goldschmidt will be like.
When Milwaukee's Ryan Braun won the 2011 NL MVP Award, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp finished in second place, followed by Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and Diamondbacks center fielder Justin Upton.
Though Upton placed fourth in the MVP race, he did take home his first Silver Slugger Award on the heels of his second All-Star Game selection.
Upton has lethal combination of speed and power. He had a career-high 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in in 2011. Arizona's center fielder is a threat at the plate and in the field, especially in the Chase Field outfield, where quickness is an absolutely necessity.
Upton is on a comeback streak after his down year in 2010, when he only hit .273 with 27 home runs and 69 runs batted in. If he continues that upward trend in 2012, the Diamondbacks will be in very good shape.
Just as teammate Justin Upton finished fourth in the NL MVP race, Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race after posting a 21-4 record with a 2.88 earned run average and 198 strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks have struck gold with this youngster, who stands to make his first NL All-Star team in 2012 thanks to a GIBBY Award-winning breakout season in 2011.
Daniel Hudson picked up 16 victories last year, with a 3.49 earned run average, 169 strikeouts and a 2011 Silver Slugger Award.
When it comes to pitching, the National League West is full of marvelous names. From Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw to San Francisco's Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to name just two, Arizona is in a division known more for its pitching than its offense.
Because of the way baseball works these days, some fans might incorrectly interpret that as a weakness.
Pitching is just as valuable to baseball as hitting, which is a point best demonstrated by Kennedy and Hudson.
When the Diamondbacks traded away prospects Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook to the Oakland Athletics for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow, they fulfilled general manager Kevin Towers' wish to add "more veteran pitching."
Cahill is a promising starter and at 23 years old, will fit in well with Daniel Hudson (24 years old), Josh Collmenter (25 years old) and Ian Kennedy (26 years old).
Cahill was 3-0 with a 2.42 earned run average against the NL in 2010, while his career mark against all MLB clubs is 40-35 with a 3.91 earned run average.
A 2010 AL All-Star, Cahill still has a lot of potential. How he fares early in 2012 will have a big impact on the Diamondbacks' 2012 chances.
Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito are veteran relievers who will be valuable additions to the Diamondbacks' 2012 bullpen.
Breslow owns a career 3.06 earned run average and can certainly be inserted in key spots.
Saito will experience the 2012 MLB season as a 42-year-old veteran, a pitcher who will likely eat up one inning at a time during non-pressure situations.
Nonetheless, Towers wanted to add pitching this offseason and he completed that objective, a feat that ultimately gives the Diamondbacks depth heading into 2012.
As the only 2011 NL West team with a winning record on the road, the Arizona Diamondbacks have it easier than their competitors.
When the Diamondbacks opened the 2011 season, expectations were not very high.
After an anticipated Opening Day sell-out, attendance quickly plummeted and Chase Field's fourth game of the season saw only 15,757 fans, followed by a 16,649-fan performance the day after.
Their opponent? The 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals—and that is with Albert Pujols in the lineup.
With winning records against every single division in baseball, the Diamondbacks also were 7-5 on the road in the month of September, demonstrating their ability to win games on the road.
The Diamondbacks were 9-4 at home in Sept. 2011, which likewise shows Arizona's strength at home.
Compare that figure to Arizona's 7-8 home record in April 2011, and you'll see the direction in which Arizona is headed.
After a worst-to-first performance in 2011, it was a pretty safe wager that Diamondbacks skipper Kirk Gibson would win MLB's 2011 NL Manager of the Year Award.
Looking at the beginning of the 2011 season, the Diamondbacks did not always have that upstart look they had the final few months of 2011.
They were 11-15 at the end of April, a month that featured a series sweep at the hands of the New York Mets.
Gibson was the first NL West manager ejected when plate umpire Bob Davidson threw him out on April 12 for arguing a check swing call.
Between then and the All-Star break, Gibson lit a fuse in the Arizona clubhouse and that spark caught fire.
Gibson is such an influential baseball figure that the Dodgers are offering Kirk Gibson promotional bobbleheads when the Diamondbacks visit Chavez Ravine in August.
This might very well be a benefit for all National League teams, but for non-Los Angeles-based NL West clubs, this one is an added bonus.
When the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim acquired both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the same day in early December, they effectively took just about every other American League team out of World Series contention.
Fortunately, the Diamondbacks play in the NL and fortunately, they do not play in Los Angeles.
The L.A. Dodgers will have to face Pujols and the Angels six times in 2012, as opposed to the three game set Arizona will experience.
Still, the bigger takeaway from Pujols in Los Angeles is the fact that he has switched leagues, and the Diamondbacks are not in direct competition with the Angels for the NL pennant.
While Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane might be best associated with the term "Moneyball," the Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be quite adept at getting the most for their dollar.
When Arizona signed Jason Kubel to a two-year contract last month, the Diamondbacks agreed to pay him the exorbitant sum of $7.5 million, throwing him into a close race with Stephen Drew for most expensive player of the Diamondbacks' roster.
If the Diamondbacks' biggest faux pas is paying Kubel just $7.5 million, it shows the Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers are generally money conscious, if not just money lucky.
The Dodgers recently inked Matt Kemp to a huge deal in which he will earn almost $20 million per year, while the Giants' Tim Lincecum was recently offered $17 million. And don't even bring up Albert Pujols or C.J. Wilson.
With Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy making that kind of money—combined—the Diamondbacks are doing something right.
Sure, it always helps when players are young and haven't yet earned the right to ask for tens of millions of dollars. However, being able to land a veteran like Takashi Saito (yes, he will be 42 years old by season's start) for just $1.75 million shows the Diamondbacks' front office can be very financially responsible, which might come in handy in trade leverage, resigning ability or free agency.
Baseball fans everywhere remember that final day of the 2011 MLB season—the Boston Red Sox in a dead heat with the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card after having been so many games ahead of their nearest competitors earlier in September.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blows a save against the Baltimore Orioles, giving up the game-winner three minutes later, fully realizing the phrase "walk-off."
Just three minutes after the Orioles defeat Boston, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run off the New York Yankees' Scott Proctor to complete a wild comeback that began with a 7-0 Yankees lead and featured a game-tying Dan Johnson homer in the bottom of the ninth when the Rays were down to their final strike.
Baseball fans everywhere could not help but bask in the tremendous glow of that final day of 2011 regular season activity—except for Red Sox fans, of course.
The point of this story is there is more than just one way into the postseason and—though the Diamondbacks have an excellent chance to win the NL West—there is always the possibility of capturing the National League Wild Card.
Even if it takes all 162 games, the Diamondbacks can get into the postseason and have a one-in-four shot of getting to the World Series if they do.
After all, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals captured their NL Wild Card on the final day of the season, and the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series.
The 2002 World Series featured an American League Wild Card Anaheim Angels squad defeating a National League Wild Card San Francisco Giants crew in seven games.
The World Series truly can be wild.