10/05/07 2:52 AM ET
Ten things to like about the D-backs
Youthful Arizona club is surprising Cubs with 2-0 lead
1. They're up two games on the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series. For the frontrunners, who may also be latecomers, there is still room on this bandwagon. Despite the fact that the Diamondbacks led the National League in victories this season, conventional wisdom said that they were too young, too inexperienced to go any further. There are people getting paid to say things like this, and all you can do with them is change the channel.
At this moment, the D-backs look like a baseball gem, just in the process of being discovered. They pitch. They catch. They get timely hits. They are hungry. They are unafraid.
2. The Diamondbacks represent the triumph of human beings over numbers. You have undoubtedly read that the D-backs could not succeed because they had been outscored by their opponents. This telling statistic allegedly proved just how inadequate they were.
No, what it proved was that they were blown out occasionally, but won 32 one-run games and had a really superior bullpen. The D-backs meant more than the numbers. This episode reminds you of the words of Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British prime minister: "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics."
3. The pitching. This is what wins in the postseason. The D-backs have one of the best starters in the game, Brandon Webb. They have the 2007 Major League saves leader, Jose Valverde, and very reliable setup men in Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon. Doug Davis answered the bell on Thursday night, outperforming Ted Lilly. "They've got a nice pitching staff over there," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "They've done it a lot this year with their pitching."
4. The kids (infield). They're everywhere, but in a good way. In Game 1, a pair of 24-year-olds led the way, as shortstop Stephen Drew with a home run to put the D-backs on the board first, and third baseman Mark Reynolds hit a home run that supplied the winning run. Drew also has made some astounding defensive plays. Did you seem him throw out Matt Murton from somewhere in left-center?
5. The kids (outfield). Chris Young, 24, turned Game 2 around with a three-run home run in the second inning. He's a big talent with speed and power and the potential to become a classic center fielder. In another season, he could have been the National League Rookie of the Year, but the field is congested this year. But he'll have his time. And did you notice Justin Upton in right, running a marathon to track down a ball at the wall? He's 20, young even for this crew. The future might be OK here.
6. Tony Clark. He's a leader on this club, and not just because he is 35 and has been around the block. He understands what leadership is on a human level. The younger players listen to him on a range of topics well beyond baseball. And he can still play first base and hit.
"To me, a leader is a servant, somebody that makes themselves available to the group," Clark says. "They offer whatever experiences that they've experienced to them in hopes of them becoming better ballplayers, better men, better fathers, better husbands, whatever the case happens to be."
7. Bob Melvin. Melvin was Bob Brenly's bench coach when the D-backs won everything in 2001, and Brenly always took pains to give Melvin plenty of credit. Now, with Melvin managing his own shop, you can see why.
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He's industrious, he's organized, he's diligent. On the human side, he has the quality of empathy and he's not looking at the success of this ballclub as a vehicle for his own self-promotion. He's done a remarkable balancing job with a young club, being patient and supportive, but also demanding accountability.
8. Augie Ojeda. Doesn't everybody like a little guy with a big heart? Well, anybody who doesn't really ought to re-examine his or her value system. The D-backs were supposed to be in serious trouble when their mainstay second baseman, Orlando Hudson, was lost for the season. But Ojeda has stepped in and done a commendable job in all phases of the game.
Ojeda claims to be 5-7 1/2. "And be sure not to forget the half," he says. Even if that is a generous estimate, Melvin says: "Augie's come up big for us." That is the whole point.
9. The Diamondbacks have a decent theme song. This doesn't seem like much, unless you hear some of the other so-called Major League theme songs. The D-backs have a contemporary rock thing going here, with a musical hook and a catchy chorus. As pop culture goes, it is not exactly classic Beatles, but it is much better than some of the theme songs of clubs set in what are supposed to be cultural capitals. There are some really cheesy theme songs out there. The D-backs should be congratulated for a musical victory.
10. This is a good story and it keeps getting better. The D-backs were not supposed to win anything. They won 90 games and the NL West. Now, they have won the first two games of a Division Series, in which they were of course, declared to be the underdog. The D-backs form an arrogance-free zone.
"You know, we look at it day-to-day," Melvin said on Thursday night after the 8-4 victory over the Cubs. "It was rewarding to get here. Now that we're here and now that we've got a couple under our belt, our expectations keep rising. And that's the way it's been for us all year.
"We were kind of an unknown early on. The more momentum we gained, especially after the second half, we went through that (21-5) run, the better we were. So therefore we got to that point in the season, we won our division, expectations were raised in our clubhouse and they continued to rise.
"Since we're here in the moment we expect a lot out of ourselves."
Here, in this moment, there is a lot to like about this young, talented ballclub. The more you watch, the less surprising its success becomes.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.