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.''