For D-backs, doing the little things paying off big-time
There was a moment in the Dodgers-Diamondbacks game Wednesday that had to make Kirk Gibson smile. If you don't know anything else about why Gibson's team has surged into contention, this will offer a hint.
His right fielder, Justin Upton, attempted to surprise the Dodgers by laying down a bunt with a runner on first in the second inning of a scoreless game. Upton popped up the bunt in foul ground behind the plate, and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis sprinted over and made a terrific diving catch.
Here's where it gets good.
D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the runner on first, watched the play unfold and alertly rushed back to the base, tagged up and hustled to second. He put himself into position to score and did just that when catcher Miguel Montero followed with a single.
The D-backs won, 4-0, that night to complete a three-game sweep and close to a mere two games out of first place in the National League West. They were 11 1/2 out on May 22 and are 35-26 since.
Goldschmidt's play is exactly the kind of thing Gibson preaches from the first day of Spring Training through the last out of October. He urges his players to be alert, to take advantage of situations and to always do the little things.
"They're not little things," he said during Spring Training.
Gibson believes that little things ultimately decide a lot of games. Now with the National League West shaping up as a three-team race with the D-backs, Dodgers and Giants, every little thing may end up being important.
The NL West was supposed to be a two-team race between the D-backs and Giants, with the Dodgers getting virtually no mention. And then the Dodgers sprinted out of the gate, and bad stuff began happening to the D-backs.
For a while, it was the pitching. And then for a month, it was the offense. Gibson had slumps here, there and everywhere in his clubhouse.
That slow start may end up being Gibson's finest hour as a Major League manager. He reacted with poise by urging his players to continue to grind through the troubles.
Finally, everything is clicking. The D-backs led the National League in runs in July. Left fielder Jason Kubel, signed by general manager Kevin Towers from the Twins last winter, hit 11 home runs. Goldschmidt, emerging as one of the best first basemen in the game, had nine. Montero is hitting .345 since mid-June.
What has really turned the D-backs around is that Gibson, finally, has started getting good work from his rotation. (Arizona's bullpen has been solid from the start and now has the Major League's best ERA at 2.21.)
As for the rotation, Ian Kennedy has strung together three quality starts in a row for only the second time this season and seems finally back on track. (In 37 post-All Star break games in his career, Kennedy is 21-6 with a 2.95 ERA.)
But the big surprise, really the lifesaver for the D-backs, has been rookie Wade Miley, who is 12-6 with a 2.98 ERA. He has been so good that he's making the National League Rookie of the Year competition a horse race with Bryce Harper and Todd Frazier.
With Daniel Hudson hurting, with Josh Collmenter struggling, Miley's contributions have been huge.
Towers shored up another trouble spot by acquiring third baseman Chris Johnson from the Astros. He promptly hit a grand slam in his first game and went 6-for-14 in the sweep of the Dodgers.
The Giants (Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro) and Dodgers (Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton) have acquired more well-known players, but the D-backs feel good about their team.
As long as the rotation performs at a high level, the D-backs believe they'll have a fighting chance.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.