While Tigers fans have been basking in the glow of it’s first division title since 1987, ex-Tigers player Kirk Gibson, who was on that 87′ team, was busy winning a division out in the N.L West. Gibson’s Arizona Diamondbacks clinched their fifth division title in 14 years, but this one in particular has to be sweet given that nobody expected the D-Backs to compete this season.
On Friday night after the Diamondbacks defeated the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the D-Backs completed their journey from worst to first, after finishing 27 games behind the Giants the previous season. Gibson has positioned himself at the head of the Manager of the Year race in just his first full season, and has done it with much the same roster the Diamondbacks had last season.
So where has the change come from?
One word. Attitude.
Gibson, who took over last season for A.J Hinch in July, has taken the tough mind set that he had as a player, and transferred it to the team he now manages. Having watched the D-Backs play several times this season, they play the game hard, and they play it for a full nine innings or more every night. Winning teams tend to have some of the same attributes and this version of the Diamondbacks is no different. They win close games, they win them late, and find a different way to do it every night. In that matter, Gibson’s team that he now manages, mirrors our very own 2011 Detroit Tigers.
The Diamondbacks after winning on Sunday are now 93-66 on the season, and in one run games they are 27-16. The Tigers are 92-67 on the season and 28-17 in one run games. With a still relatively young baseball team, the D-Backs got better down the stretch instead of folding up the tent and giving in to the experienced Giants. In the last two months of August and September, the D-Backs have gone 34-17 (Tigers 35-16), blowing the doors open on the N.L. West. They also took care of business in their own division, going 42-27 against the rest of the West. We all know the Tigers killed their Central opponents this season as well, going 47-22.
The Diamondbacks are essentially led on offense by three players, Justin Upton, Chris Young and Miguel Montero. While they have a main three, they get contributions from a lot of different sources on any given night. Rookie 1B Paul Goldschmidt has contributed mightily since being called up. Willie Bloomquist has filled in nicely for 4th musketeer Stephen Drew, who has been out with injury. Aaron Hill has looked like the 2009 version of himself since coming over in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Little talked about LF Gerardo Parra is a glue guy that does it with the bat and the glove.
The D-Backs pitching has been stellar at times as well. Led by Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy, the starters have been pretty good all year. Gibson has gotten solid contributions from Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter, and Joe Saunders as well. The bullpen has done its share as well, getting a real good year from closer J.J. Putz and set-up man David Hernandez.
Last year, the Diamondbacks finished in last at 65-97. This year, they have a chance to be 30 games above .500 with 3 wins to close out the season. While the players have to do well on the field to win the games, I think it is undeniable that the fire and grind-it-out attitude that Gibson brings to the clubhouse is a large part of why the Diamondbacks are in the playoffs in 2011.
Kirk Gibson and Jim Leyland show that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I don’t think many people would say that their styles are all that similar, but right now they are getting essentially the same results. Leyland has been managing forever, and Gibson is doing it well in his first full year. I think anyone who remembers Gibson as a player in a Tigers uniform is going to cheer for his club to do well in the post-season. I know I will.
Well….at least until the Tigers beat them in the World Series.