09/30/07 8:00 PM ET
D-backs take unlikely road to NLDS
Young club's roller coaster season ends with division title
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
And yet even Byrnes has a hard time figuring his team out.
"We've learned to expect the unexpected," he said.
The Cubs had better do the same thing when they take on Arizona in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday at Chase Field.
"Anybody, anytime," a phrase coined by veteran first baseman Tony Clark, has become a mantra in the clubhouse and a reality on the field.
After all, this is a club that has gotten crucial home runs from unlikely sources, like Augie Ojeda in a game against the Orioles, and Jeff Salazar's three-run homer helped them beat the Giants in September.
"The guys like Ojeda and Salazar have stepped in," Byrnes said. "And I think that's why it feels somewhat unexpected, because so many guys have contributed to wins."
Another factor that contributes to the inability to figure this team out lies in its streakiness.
The D-backs have had five winning streaks of five or more games this year, and they've also had three losing streaks of at least five games, which have led to a roller coaster of a season.
"They're a very entertaining team, but I've aged during the season," D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick said. "It's been pretty stressful at times to watch."
The Cubs were witnesses to how quickly things changed for Arizona when the D-backs visited Wrigley Field not long after the All-Star break.
After being near the top of the NL West for much of the first half, the D-backs lost eight of their final 10 games before the break and were mired in third place, eight games into the second half.
But just when people were ready to write the D-backs' obituary, Stephen Drew, who had been in a season-long slump at the plate, hit an eighth-inning homer that helped Arizona beat the Cubs, 3-2. They went on to win eight straight, and 21 of the next 26.
"On the one hand, we haven't gotten into one of those ruts where we win one, lose one, win one," Byrnes said. "On the other hand, we've won the most series and we have the best record in the National League. Another good stretch of games puts us where we want to be." For the most part, the D-backs pitching has been reliable, with the starters giving them consistent innings and the bullpen closing the door when it's been given a lead.
The wild card has been the offense. When it produces is usually when the D-backs get on a roll. When it struggles to hit with runners in scoring position is when things go in the other direction.
"Our offense has gotten better and better," Byrnes said. "The second half, our offense has started to pick up with some home runs and stolen bases and become a little more explosive."
Which probably helps explain why the D-backs have avoided any long losing streaks in the second half, with their longest being a trio of three-gamers.
National League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Sat. Oct. 6||6 p.m.||Wrigley Field||TBS|
|*Sun. Oct. 7||1 p.m.||Wrigley Field||TNT|
|*Tue. Oct. 9||10 p.m.||Chase Field||TBS|
|Wed., Oct. 3||3 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||3 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|Sat. Oct. 6||9:30 p.m.||Coors Field||TBS|
|*Sun. Oct. 7||10 p.m.||Coors Field||TBS|
|*Tue. Oct. 9||6:30 p.m.||Citizens Bank Park||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
The D-backs at times start a player, Justin Upton, who began the year in Class A, and another, Mark Reynolds, who started in Double-A. Add in the fact that Drew and Chris Young are completing their first full season in the big leagues and you can see why it might be hard to get a read on how they'll do in October.
"From a scouting standpoint, a young team like Arizona presents a challenge because the young players don't have a track record that you can look at," an American League scout said. "You don't have a real good idea how they'll respond."
The D-backs won a franchise-record 32 one-run games this year, and have displayed an ability to come back after falling behind early in a game.
"We've shown a lot of resiliency this year," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "I think the fact that we have lost some leads in the standings and that we have been beaten in some games badly has helped us build that resiliency. And hopefully if something like that happens to us in the postseason we'll be able to respond to it.
"We have some guys that can be tough to evaluate at times, depending on how they're swinging. Even when some of the guys aren't swinging great, they can still hurt you with one swing.
"Based on the fact that we don't have as much of a track record as some other teams, I think we can be tough to prepare for."
As well as tough to predict.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.