Arizona Diamondbacks: 8 Reasons They Will Be the A's/Orioles of 2013
The D-Backs are also firmly on the outs in terms of the Wild Card race, with St. Louis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia all contending ahead of the D-Backs for the second Wild Card spot.
On the American League side of things, however, two notable surprises are the Oakland Athletics, who hold a 1.5 game lead for the top Wild Card spot, and the Baltimore Orioles, who are just 0.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East Race and three games ahead of the Angels for Wild Card No. 2.
No matter where these surprise teams finish, their respective 2012 campaigns will resonate for a long time, much like the Tampa Bay Rays' improbable run to the 2011 postseason (thanks in no small part to a set of thrilling Game 162's)
And speaking of the improbable Bostonian collapse culminating in that final-game defeat, it was none other than a Buck Showalter-led Baltimore squad delivering that final blow.
Talk about momentum.
This is why Arizona will feed off a similar push heading into 2013, hoping to ride the coattails of the Orioles' good tidings of the past year.
Momentum from Knocking out a Wild Card Contender
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The Diamondbacks will not simply benefit from the resounding 10-2 victory against San Francisco on Sunday, Sept. 16. Instead, to achieve full Orioles-style success and reap the rewards of momentum, the satisfaction of delivering a severe blow to a Wild Card-hopeful must be overt and convincing.
For this, we turn to the second-place Wild Card hopeful Dodgers and the Diamondbacks' thrashing of manager Kirk Gibson's former club during the 2012 season.
Though the Dodgers might have honored the D-Backs skipper with a Kirk Gibson bobblehead when Arizona came to town in July, things clearly didn't sit well with Gibson.
He sheepishly acknowledged a Chavez Ravine crowd grateful for his 1988 World Series heroics in L.A., although he had previously denied legend Orel Hershiser's request to catch the former hurler's ceremonial first pitch in May.
Yankees Are to Orioles as Giants Are to D-Backs
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With Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez finding the bench more often since 2010 than ever before, it might come as a shock to discover that as of midseason, New York has actually performed better (63-29, .685 win percentage) without A-Rod than they have with him (188-142, .570 win percentage).
For instance, from Aug. 1 through Aug. 29 this year, the Bronx Bombers recorded a 15-11 month without A-Rod, while the Yankees have found themselves playing .500 baseball (6-6) since his return.
When a superstar misses a significant amount of time, teams often power through adversity with lineup depth, leaving a vacuum of sorts when the star returns to the lineup and the depth is confined to the bench.
In San Francisco, Melky Cabrera was huge for the Giants before testing positive for a prohibited substance and drawing a 50-game suspension. During his absence, the Giants have surged in the NL West.
At the time of the suspension, the Dodgers held a one-game lead, which, since Melk-man's absence, has turned into an eight-game advantage for S.F.
When Cabrera finally does come back, expect a surprise stutter from San Francisco, leaving room for Arizona to power through the NL West standings.
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With their 2012 payroll (Via USA Today) of $74.3 million expected to increase at a pace below the league average rate of growth in 2013, the Diamondbacks find themselves in 24th place on MLB's team salaries list, coincidentally smack-dab in the middle of the Baltimore Orioles ($81.4 million, 19th place) and the Oakland A's ($55.3 million, 29th place).
In 2011, by contrast, the Orioles and A's held higher payrolls, both absolutely and relatively, with Baltimore spending $85.3 million for its 18th spot and Oakland doling out $66.5 million for its 21st spot on the league-wide list. Arizona's $53.6 million payroll ranked 25th. In 2010, the Diamondbacks had spent $60.7 million on player contracts.
Perhaps the best approach is something of Moneyball fame: Commit to what is working and dump the excess weight. With Joe Saunders and Takashi Saito among the club's free agency options, this strategy seems plausible.
(Don't) Follow the (Opponents') Money
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Speaking of money, the Los Angeles Dodgers added over $260 million in future salaries after acquiring stars Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford in 2012.
Unfortunately, other high-profile big-name acquisitions around MLB have proven that success is not determined by money moves.
For instance, after acquiring slugger Albert Pujols and hurler C.J. Wilson during the 2011-12 offseason, the Los Angeles Angels have experienced minimal improvement over their 2011 campaign, turning a .531 winning percentage into a .544 battle that still has the club three games out of the second Wild Card spot.
It's worse for the Detroit Tigers and their addition of Prince Fielder. After winning the AL Central in 2011, the Tigers have slipped from .586 to .527 and have a three-game deficit in their division.
And as for the Marlins' Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell—2011's worst team in the NL East has once again been mathematically eliminated from the division in 2012. The Miami Marlins have a winning percentage five points lower than the .444 mark they had last season when they were still just "Florida."
If you're looking for a big number, try 500,000. Stay away from the spending spree.
All About Atmosphere
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A's manager Bob Melvin summed up his team's success over the weekend, stating "Everybody's looking forward to getting to the park and playing."
It's just that simple.
The 2011 Diamondbacks were incredibly successful, in part, because the 2011 Diamondbacks had fun and were fun to watch.
That chemistry included the duo of former Blue Jays Aaron Hill and John McDonald, and Kirk Gibson's successful approach to motivating his team to defeat its underdog label.
Though Roberts is now in Tampa Bay and the crew has certainly changed, stalwarts Upton, Chris Young and other veterans are in prime position to combine with upstart figures like Patrick Corbin, Adam Eaton and other young guns to recapture the 2011 magic that brought Arizona to the postseason.
Betting the Farm on Three 2012 Minor League Championships
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It may not receive much publicity on the Major League level, but the Arizona Diamondbacks' Triple-A affiliate, the Reno Aces, recently won the PCL Championship.
The league title is significant, not just because of a resounding 3-1 Championship Series win over Omaha or the Aces' club-record 81-win season. It is because with the Triple-A win, the D-Backs organization has now gathered three 2012 Minor League championships—a franchise record.
D-Backs fans will be most familiar with several players who made an appearance on the 2012 Aces' roster, such as pitchers Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, along with outfielders Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock.
Skaggs also appeared on the Double-A Southern League Mobile BayBears' squad in 2012.
Coincidentally, the Orioles' High-A affiliate Frederick Keys won the 2011 Caroline League title, while last season's Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland's affiliate) won the New York-Penn League's McNamara division.
With a franchise record three MiLB championships in 2012, serious talent in the farm system is simply waiting for a chance to take over the big league club and guide it to a World Series berth.
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Smart baseball wins ballgames.
Just ask O's skipper Buck Showalter, a man who Men's Journal recently proclaimed is "too smart for baseball."
And though Arizona's Kirk Gibson might say, "I'm not that smart," some of the plays turned in by his players beg to differ, such as Paul Goldschmidt's heads-up tag from first to second base on a foul pop fly behind home plate at Dodger Stadium in August.
Goldy eventually scored what turned out to be the decisive run, thanks in no small part to his 90-foot head start.
In 2011, Gibson cited a desire to mitigate his trademark aggressive style of baserunning with smart baseball, prophetically stating:
"I don't like to get in situations when we force [aggressive baserunning], because when you're forcing things, in general, you're not into it as much. You don't execute it as well. You don't feel comfortable."
In other words, smart baseball.
Arizona Has Done It Before, and Recently, Too
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Sit back and take a gander at these historical statistics of recent memory:
2012: Baltimore (83-64), 2nd place AL East, 0.5 GB
2011: Baltimore (69-93), 5th place AL East, 28.0 GB
Now compare them to these:
2011: Arizona (94-68), 1st place NL West
2010: Arizona (65-97), 5th place NL West, 27.0 GB
Yes, there is very recent precedent for a worst-to-first style jump in the standings. Though for Arizona, the simple fact of having gone through the transformation just two seasons ago allows veterans to realize that they've been there and done that.