Following their first division crown in over a decade, we’re now on the eve of another postseason featuring the Arizona Diamondbacks. This marks just the 2nd time in the clubs history with back to back playoff appearances & the first time this century with more than 95 wins.
Reaching that 95 win mark seemed impossible on May 20th, however. The D-Backs sat 13 games behind the division leader with a miserable 20-25 record following a 9 game losing streak. The team seemed hopeless. The bullpen was slumping. The offense had no hope. Injuries to key player proved to be too much for the team to overcome.
Until it wasn’t too much.
Fast forward to June 14th (ironically GM Blake Rowe’s birthday), the team was coming off a sweep from Colorado. At 30-37 halfway through June it was time to either get some traction or start thinking about being sellers at the deadline.
Inching closer to that deadline it was clear that the team was again lacking in their home run hitting ability. Ranked 12th in the NL at the time in HR’s, the team was playing San Diego. July 13th, Padres 1B Jonas Lantigua would blast 2 HR’s en route to an 8-2 win in Arizona. This would kickstart a 4 game losing streak for the Diamondbacks and yet again more thoughts about the trade deadline. But that wasn’t the only thing it kickstarted.
After witnessing first hand the power that Lantigua had, the Diamondbacks pulled the trigger on the slugging 1B on July 19th. Adding Lantigua to the middle of the order that the D-Backs already boasted was encouraging in itself but the team wasn’t quite done there.
Deadline day was a very busy day in Arizona. Not only did the team add a number to the win column (the first time the Diamondbacks had reached 10 games over .500 under GM Blake Rowe), they also added firepower to their lineup and the bullpen; and it was more heavy artillery.
CL Paco Rodriguez, RP Sam Scott (2nd in FIP amongst RP’s) & OF Juan Encarnacion (4th in HR’s) would be Diamondbacks by the end of the day.
From the trade deadline to the end of the season the Diamondbacks would go 39-17. A 69.6 win %. For reference, the Phillies finished first this season in win % with 66.7; 3 percentage points fewer than the Arizona stretch. Extrapolated over the course of a full season, that 69.6 win % would net you 112 wins which would be the most by any team since the Mariners set the MLB record in 2001 with 116.
The key to the turnaround was the way the team played against their playoff foes. Early in the season the likes of Colorado & San Francisco had their way with Arizona, but there was a clear turning point.
The aforementioned June sweep at the hands of Colorado would be the final time the Diamondbacks would lose to Colorado for the remainder of the year. 11 straight wins against a division rival to close the year. In the time that they won those 11 games against COL, they also enjoyed 2 sweeps over the then-division-leading Giants as well.
These successes put the Diamondbacks just 2 games back of the division on September 9th. From there was the final true daunting task of the season. A 2 week stretch without a day off against the Angels, Rockies, Giants & Angels once again.
4 series against 4 playoff teams across 2 weeks without a single day off. 2 games back of the division leader. This is your chance and how do you respond?
11-4. A 9-game win streak during that time and a 1.5 game lead in the division with less than 2 weeks to go.
On the back of an incredible September from Midseason addition & Player of the Month Jonas Lantigua and a revamped bullpen unit, the Diamondbacks clinched the division on the first game of October.
So now what? How do you continue the high of fighting back from 9 games back with 2 months to go? Fighting off a 9 game losing streak in May? Fighting through a gauntlet of September baseball in order to clinch.
Well, it’s simple. You keep winning.
A 2021 NLCS berth could’ve been a “happy to be there” moment but it wasn’t. There are currently only 2 players in the lineup from the team a year ago. Only 5 of the 12 pitchers on the postseason roster were on the team a year ago.
“Happy to be here” doesn’t exist in Arizona. The chips aren’t just pushed in – they’re shoved to the center of the table & the Diamondbacks feel they’re holding pocket aces in Pancho Escobar & Jesus Rodriguez.