Diamondbacks on longest win streak in 3 seasons

After two seasons in the NL West basement, the Arizona
Diamondbacks are looking downright respectable.

Nobody is rushing to reserve World Series tickets barely a
quarter through the season, but the Diamondbacks have won six in a
row – their longest streak in three seasons – and eight of nine to
climb to .500. They enter Tuesday’s doubleheader at Colorado just a
half-game behind the second-place Rockies.

Manager Kirk Gibson’s emphasis on details and a positive
attitude could be paying off. New general manager Kevin Towers has
transformed the worst bullpen in baseball into an effective unit.
He’s changed the clubhouse chemistry with an influx of journeymen
professionals.

One of the newcomers, closer J.J. Putz, is 12 for 12 in save
opportunities.

”Everybody’s playing really well,” Putz said. ”We’re doing
little things, we’re getting guys over, driving in big runs with
two outs and we’re making good pitches. So hopefully we can keep
this thing rolling.”

Four of the six wins have come by one run, the latest a 3-2
victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins on
Sunday. That follows a six-game road skid that featured five
straight one-run losses.

”It’s somebody new every night, it seems like, that’s making a
big pitch or getting a big hit or making a big play,” Willie
Bloomquist said. ”A great homestand. It’s a good way to bounce
back after a not-so-great road trip.”

Gibson, in his first full season as manager, has the team
playing an aggressive style.

”Our base running was pretty good,” he said of the team’s 6-1
homestand. ”We bunted quite a few times in this series, we overall
fielded the ball pretty well, but then had a couple of games where
we had a couple of hiccups there but the offense picked us up.
That’s the thing about good teams. Those things are going to happen
and it’s a matter if your other areas can overcome that.”

Putz shrugged off his performance and instead praised the team’s
young starting rotation. Daniel Hudson went eight innings on Sunday
to improve to 5-1 in his last six starts. Ian Kennedy is 5-1 with a
3.24 ERA. The most surprising starter is Josh Collmenter, who since
he came up from Triple-A Reno is 3-0 with an 0.69 ERA. Collmenter,
who throws with an unusual straight overhand style, has a streak of
21 consecutive scoreless innings, the last 12 in his two
starts.

”This whole homestand was starting pitching,” Putz said.
”That set the tone for everything to get us in position to score
some runs and let the bullpen come in and finish things off.”

In the bullpen, Putz has a 1.89 ERA, lefty Joe Paterson 0.87,
Sam Demel 1.72, David Hernandez 2.18 and Esmerling Vasquez
2.65.

Offensively, the team got a big boost on the homestand from
first baseman Juan Miranda, the Cuban defector who came to Arizona
in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees. Miranda was 9 for
18 with five RBIs in the seven games. His home run on Sunday was
only the fifth ever by a left-handed batter off Twins lefty
Francisco Liriano.

”I just made an approach to stay back a little bit longer and
hit the ball the other way,” Miranda said with teammate Miguel
Montero acting as interpreter.

The players sense a building confidence, especially after
rallying on Saturday night for a 9-6 victory on Kelly Johnson’s
grand slam in a six-run eighth inning.

”We don’t feel like we’re out of any game,” Bloomquist said.
”If you keep pushing the whole nine innings, good things will
happen.”

Gibson knows the twinbill in Colorado will be a big challenge.
The Diamondbacks have two more against the Rockies after that, then
play three at Houston before coming back for seven at home.

”It’s tough,” he said. ”It doesn’t get easy, but you have to
just cherish the opportunity.”