MLB Playoffs: Arizona Diamondbacks' Kirk Gibson Is Magician Manager of the Year

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MLB Playoffs: Arizona Diamondbacks' Kirk Gibson Is Magician Manager of the Year
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As baseball's most surprising story in 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks prepare to open up their first postseason series in five years.

As the baseball world turns its eyes to Milwaukee, where the D'Backs will face the Brewers in the NLDS beginning Saturday, the big question is: What accounts for the surprising success of the NL West champions this year?

Well, they can flat-out hit, right? Out of 16 National League clubs, Arizona finished 10th in team batting average (.250). The D'Backs have also struck out 1,260 times, the fourth-most in the league.

Okay, but their pitching has been amazing, and like the Giants in 2010, that's what got them to the playoffs this season.

Well, the D'Backs finished ninth in the league in team ERA (3.80) and 10th in opponents' batting average (.257). Arizona pitching gave up the fifth-most home runs in the NL, with 157.

Obviously, something doesn't add up here.

That's because the Arizona Diamondbacks are not supposed to be playing baseball in October.

Before the season began, Arizona was universally picked to finish toward the bottom of the NL West, with the Giants and Rockies favored to contend for the division crown.

With the defending world champs and the Rockies watching October baseball from home, they've got to be scratching their heads, wondering just how the Snakes have managed to not only win the division, but run away with it.

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Arizona's expected win-loss record as of today is 89-73. That takes into account all of Arizona's success throughout this season, and the D'Backs even outperformed that record by five games, finishing with a 94-68 record.

So what gives?

While Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has been getting much of the credit for building this club and making the right moves to bolster the D'Backs down the stretch, the fact that the statistics still suggest Arizona is in the middle of the pack, both offensively and in terms of pitching; something ought to be said for the magic act that manager Kirk Gibson is performing.

Gibson, who will forever be remembered for his dramatic walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against a heavily-favored Oakland Athletics squad, may have added another historic achievement to his resume when his Diamondbacks clinched the NL West on September 23.

The intangible, the mystique, the missing-link between statistics that demand no better than a .500 ball club and the reality of the regular season standings, can be found between the ears of Gibson.

Whether he will ever reveal the secret, remains to be seen. But if the Diamondbacks keep this up, there could be some shocking upsets this October.

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