I have gone on record in the past as saying that I respect Kirk Gibson, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, more than any other National League West manager not named Bruce Bochy. Feel free to substitute the word “fear” for that of “respect.” What’s more, I know why I respect him more than any other and it dates back to that 1988 World Series, when as a Los Angeles Dodger, he limped to the plate with a hamstring injury to one leg, and a knee injury to the other. He was also fighting a stomach virus when he slugged a 3-2 pitch from Dennis Eckersley over the wall for a first-game Series victory. He hobbled around the bases and the Dodgers went on to win in five.
As John Schmidt said during this morning’s Major League Baseball Season Opener, “That’s one thing that the Diamondbacks are going to be known for…the character of their manager is they’re going to play hard…They’re going to do all the things they have to, to compete…They don’t want to take second… They don’t want to just concede that it’s the Dodgers’ division.”
Kirk Gibson will not quit. His team could be down by six with two outs in the ninth, and he will not give up. Entering his fourth season as skipper of the D-backs, he instills this drive in his players and, after back-to-back 81-81 seasons, the team is fired up and working together to sort out the little things down in the desert, to be able to make a run at the playoffs. Here is a look at what has been going on in that den of Snakes since the season ended last fall.
General manager Kevin Towers set out on a mission to do three things: improve starting pitching, replace his closer, and add power to the lineup. First, the D-backs went all out in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes before signing free agent Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $23.5 million deal. Next, they jettisoned closer Heath Bell, (D-backs were tied for worst with 29 blown saves last season), and traded third-base prospect Matt Davidson for White Sox closer Addison Reed. Third, Arizona sent prospects Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels and Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox and landed some thunder in the person of left-fielder Mark Trumbo, who hit 34 home runs last season with 100 RBI’s.
Unfortunately, Patrick Corbin, slated to be the Opening Day pitcher, suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring surgery on his elbow, so the acquisition of Arroyo became more of a stop-gap effort than the upgrade it was intended to be. The D-backs will seek to supply a replacement for Corbin from three candidates: Randall Delgado (18 MLB games’ experience) Archie Bradley (4 games) or Bo Schultz (none).
At least the bullpen looks deeper with Reed closing and J.J. Putz (3-1, 2.36 ERA, 34.1 innings), along with David Hernandez (5-6, 4.48, 62 games, 62.1 innings) and Brad Ziegler (8-1, 2.22 ERA, 78 games, 73 innings), setting him up. Second-year man Will Harris (4-1, 2.91, 52 innings, 61 games) and newly-inked Oliver Perez, will lend support. Filling out the five-man rotation are newly anointed-Opening Day pitcher Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy.
Kirk Gibson’s lineup will feature Miguel Montero at catcher, Paul Goldschmidt at first, Aaron Hill at second, Chis Owings at short, Martin Prado at third, Mark Trumbo in left, A.J. Pollock in center, and Gerardo Parra in right field. A broken hand cost Aaron Hill two months last season but when he came back, he was the same veteran presence hitting .291 in 87 games. Also, Cody Ross’s dislocated hip is allowing him to participate in spring training, but it’s impossible to say when he will be back.
Having two, thirty-homer guys, gives the D-backs a lot of clout. Playing in Arizona will certainly emphasize this point. Paul Goldschmidt, who won the Gold Glove at first base last season, batted .302 with 36 home runs and 125 RBI’s. He was heard to say this spring that he just wanted to win the World Series. With the addition of Mark Trumbo (34 home runs, 100 RBI’s) the D-backs have a good shot, at least, of making the playoffs.
For all of the talk about the Dodgers being the obvious division winner in the NL West, the Diamondbacks are a serious threat indeed. They gave up several valuable prospects this past winter and have stretched their payroll to a record $110 million. This year’s division race will come down to how the top teams fare within their own division more than at any time in the past. Call me naive, but I fear the Diamondbacks more than I fear the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I remember 2011, and the way the D-backs overtook the San Francisco Giants, the year Buster Posey went down. I don’t trust those Snakes, and I don’t trust their leader, Kirk Gibson. What we need is to have the Snakes rear up and bite the Dodgers, leaving them out of the picture, while San Francisco marches on to the division title. After all, the Giants have an antidote for the Snakes-it’s called five All-Star pitchers, and they’re good at disabling their opponents too.