The MLB Divisional Series are quickly coming to a close, and for those casual fans who don’t know which teams to root for while waiting for weekend football to hurry up, selecting from the remaining
eight six teams can be difficult.
There are the powerhouse juggernauts, the
New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. The storied franchises like the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. There’s the glory-less teams that have relatively little postseason experience over their long history—the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers. The seemingly recent newbies such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays.
So which team should you root for? The old standbys, or the young up-and-comers?
Here’s a look at five reasons why you want the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks to take home the World Series title.
While the Arizona Diamondbacks have in fact won a World Series within the past decade, it does seem like forever ago. So many faces and personnel have changed for the franchise since their 2001 title—even the uniforms. But the D-backs aren’t exactly a team that’s starving for a championship, locked in a decade-long drought. Neither is the city of Phoenix for that matter, as the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA recently took home a championship in 2009. Or something.
Still, when it comes to evaluating a team to cheer for, there’s always that search for a feel-good story. The state of Arizona has had some non-baseball related governmental issues that have grasped the headlines in the past year and a half; so in hopes of sports healing the minds and souls of Arizona residents, it’d be nice to see a long postseason run by the Diamondbacks. Maybe the state of Arizona has felt a feeling of desertion regarding all the controversies. Setting aside political sides to vote for the same cause—a Diamondbacks championship—would be unifying.
For most West Coast fans in particular, the D-backs are geographically the closest playoff team left to root for. Maybe some allegiance to Arizona would be worthwhile for those interested in seeing baseball played on Pacific Daylight Time. And for those not on the West Coast, the sunshine and warmer weather certainly attracts television audiences. After all, who doesn’t get excitedly jealous at the traditional camera shots of fans frolicking in Chase Field’s swimming pool?
It would be a unique feat for the organization and the city of Phoenix to host the All-Star Game and a World Series in the same year. A season-long commitment to baseball for the community and Diamondback fans.
For Arizona’s laid-back environs and setting, and the state’s unity, this is the team to care about during the playoffs. Look for the Diamondbacks to continue raising Arizona throughout October.
Applying the mettle of Arizonians, the Diamondbacks themselves have overcome a lot as well. After finishing last in the National League West in 2010, oddsmakers picked Arizona to comfortably do the same in 2011. Certainly there was little consideration that they’d win the division—not over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Preseason odds for the D-backs to win it all were 80 to 1, the longest shots of the eight teams that made the playoffs this season.
But like all underdogs, the Diamondbacks resisted the experts’ pessimism. With Kirk Gibson leading the way for a full season—he became interim manager midway through 2010—there was a semblance of continuity and maturation going into this year. Arizona’s band of no-names did not accept being cellar dwellers and surprisingly found themselves four games back of the Giants as late as July 29.
Instead of being content with a second-place showing, the D-backs approached the trade deadline as if they had nothing else to lose and first place to gain, making subtle trades to bolster their roster. Amazingly, by August 10, Arizona was atop the NL West—and they never looked back.
With such a seemingly starless ballclub, how did they do it? To the average baseball fan, Arizona has a fairly anonymous roster—currently they boast five rookies. But what they lack in individual domination, or experience, they make up for with a steady lineup. Though they don’t have the most spectacular team numbers, they were balanced enough to score the fourth-most runs in the National League, also ranking fourth in home runs and doubles. However, known for their wealth of power—five different players hit at least 18 home runs—the D-backs ranked second in the NL in stolen bases. Quite the balance on offense. Heck, they even had the best-hitting pitching staff in the league.
And yet Arizona only had four players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and only three pitchers to start more than 30 games. They have been such a mishmash of different lineups and players, it’s a wonder how they got this far.
But that’s what underdogs do—they persevere. They defy logic. Underdogs rise above and overachieve. They’ve already done enough to be considered a legitimate Cinderella story. Let’s see how long the fairytale continues.
It all starts at the top. When you have a leader to believe in, a manager to respect, then everything else seems to take care of itself.
Last season, the D-backs were a lost clubhouse. The respect for management evaporated, and Arizona dismissed general manager Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch midway through 2010. It was a tough period for a young ballclub, and the D-backs lumbered to a last-place finish, with a disheartening 97 losses.
Putting the 2010 season behind them wasn’t going to be too difficult. To be sure, it was a horrid year, but something that bad can be chalked up as just a crummy situation. You move on. Gibson was hired as the full-time manager, and a new regime was put in place, eagerly ready to make the necessary improvements to be a good team. He quickly won the respect of his players, who recognized his management style to be similar to how he played while in the major leagues—tough-minded and well-rounded.
Gibson was a bulldog during his playing days, and versatile on the field, hitting for power and stealing bases. He has certainly applied that versatility to his Arizona club, as the D-backs finished in the top four in both home runs and stolen bases. He has taken risks by placing rookies Paul Goldschmidt and Josh Collmenter on the playoff roster. But as long as he believes in them, they will continue to perform at the level he expects of them. Trust can go a long way.
Many casual fans will remember Gibson for his dramatic pinch-hit home run against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. But maybe 23 years later, it’d be a sight to see him sprinting in celebration of another World Series victory in 2011.
While there are no otherworldly superstars on the Diamondbacks’ roster, Justin Upton is the brightest light in the Arizona desert. At only 24 years of age, Upton is just coming into his own and is on the precipice of becoming one of the best players in baseball.
The fifth-year outfielder had a spectacular all-around season, batting .289 while setting career highs in nearly every major category, including home runs (31), doubles (39), runs batted in (88), runs scored (205) and stolen bases (21). He was named to his second All-Star Game—which was played in the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field—and was a participant in the Home Run Derby.
The raw numbers are enough to entice most baseball fans. But for the casual observer, it’s more exciting to hope that Upton gets a hold of pitcher’s lazy mistake. Upton is known for hitting prodigiously long home runs, including the third-longest in MLB this season. For the average viewer, tune in to the Diamondbacks series, just in case Upton hits a signature mammoth home run.
However, Upton has used his power as simply one aspect of his 5-tool ability. He can knock it out of the park, steal a base or rob an opponent of a base hit. He has the ability to truly dominate game and even a playoff series.
Underdogs feed off of the ability to pull through when their backs are against the wall, when everything is seemingly out of their favor. Somehow, they manage to find success when they have been counted out. When a team of underdogs is continuously overcoming these odds to the point of normalcy, it increases their mystique. That aura builds up and is the driving force of a full-blown bandwagon of fans who revel at the little engines that could.
The Arizona Diamondbacks led the league with 48 come-from-behind wins during the regular season. Much of that feat is attributed to the resolve and determination of a confident team. Though a relatively carefree and inexperienced squad, that fearlessness allows the D-backs to focus when it matters most. And with such a clutch performer as their manager, Kirk Gibson, there’s no doubt that as a ballclub they firmly adhere to the adage, "It’s not how you start but how you finish."
"I think the more you have success in the latter parts of games and the more you come back and win in the late innings, obviously if you keep doing that, it's going to grow on everybody," third baseman Ryan Roberts said.
They have brought that mentality into the postseason.
Consider the first found of this year’s playoffs. In the National League Divisional Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona lost the first two games of the best-of-five series. Without any panic or despondency, the D-backs have won Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix—with ease. Arizona evened the series at two games apiece and has rattled the Brewers’ confidence. The Diamondbacks have their prey just where they want them.
Don’t sleep on this team—they’ll strike back quickly. Lightning fast, too. No deficit is unreachable.
Hopefully they have a little more left in the tank to complete the series comeback. Game 5 is tonight. It certainly makes for an exciting playoff run.