If we've learned anything about Octobers the last few years, it's that the month tests, stretches and hones every aspect of loyalty fandom.
Therefore, to adequately preview the madness that is the baseball playoffs, we've invited some of our favorite writers for each of the eight playoff teams to write about their teams. These will be running all day today and tomorrow, and we very much hope you enjoy them.
Up right now: The Arizona Diamondbacks. Your writer is Jim McLennan.
Jim McLennan grew up in Britain, so he never saw live baseball for the first three decades of his life. He's making up for it now, and rants, on a daily basis, about the Arizona Diamondbacks over at AZ Snake Pit. His words are after the jump.
I was trying to think of a witty metaphor for the D-backs presence in the postseason. Ugly kid at the prom? Democrat at a Rush Limbaugh convention? But I think the closest would probably be the independent film that gets nominated as Best Picture: no stars, no budget and nobody's quite sure how it managed to get there. For this team has the lowest payroll in the division, is tied for last in NL batting average at the time of writing, has nobody who will hit .300 and only Brandon Webb will win 15 games. Hell, they've conceded more runs than they've scored. By just about any sabermetric measure, the team sucks. But they still have the best record in the National League. That sound you hear is stats geeks impaling themselves on their copies of the Bill James Handbook.
How are they managing it? I if knew that, I'd be a GM. But a few things stand out. Firstly, a lights-out bullpen, which means the team hangs onto a lead like a Michael Vick pit bull: we're 60-10 when leading after five innings. At any point thereafter, manager Bob Melvin can hand things over to the Four Relievers of the Apocalypse (Jose Valverde, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz and Tony Pena), who have pitched 275 innings - basically a starter and a half - with a combined ERA below three. Add the most-productive pinch-hitters in the majors, so they can usually score runs when needed, and that's likely why they have a 32-19 record in one-run games, which largely explains why they're where they are.
This team could certainly reach the World Series, having won the regular season series against the Padres, Cubs and Phillies, with an overall record of 19-11 against them. On their day, this team can beat anyone in the National League. Hell, Micah Owings can do it all by himself, becoming the first pitcher in at least 50 years to have multiple four-hit games in one season. Is he a pitcher who hits, or a hitter who pitches? And much like him, when the D-backs are firing, they can hurt you a lot of ways. Center fielder Chris Young fell a couple of bases short of becoming the first rookie with a 30 HR, 30 SB season; Eric Byrnes discovered his wheels, doubling his stolen-base total of 2006, already a career-high. Nine different players hit ten or more homers. The Diamondbacks are an unstoppable force.
On the other hand, they could, equally well, get swept in the NLDS. Byrnes pops up an awful lot for someone who signed a midseason $30m contract. Stephen Drew leaves Arizona fans longing for the hitting stroke of ... er, Craig Counsell. Carlos Quentin flopped so badly, he was tossed back to Tucson. Much as we love Augie 'The Littlest Ballplayer' Ojeda, he is not Orlando Hudson, lost with a busted thumb for the season. And opponents are batting .363 off Livan Hernandez this month. The Diamondbacks do not have a chance in hell.
But, this year, Arizona fans have mastered the art of doublethink, and the above paragraphs, if a bundle of contradictions, are an entirely accurate (if not, perhaps, particularly helpful) assessment of Arizona's postseason potential. Nothing would surprise me any longer about this team: they have already surpassed expectations simply by getting here, and whatever happens, they've given the state its most unforgettable ride since the World Series win over the Yankees.
Who knows where it'll stop? Back in the preseason, when Will asked me for a preview, I wrote, "You can still get the Diamondbacks at odds of 66-1 to win the 2007 World Series. Frankly, that's a gift, and readers might consider contacting their overseas relatives in regard to this matter, before the sports books catch on." I hope you took that advice: I'll be in contact for my 5 percent shortly.