Who are these guys? That had to be the thought from many outside Phoenix as the Diamondbacks just kept winning last year. They battled with the Giants for most of the season before pulling away down the stretch. The combination of new GM, Kevin Towers, and new manager, Kirk Gibson infused new life into this underachieving club. With players like Chris Young and Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks should have been better much sooner. But they finally put it all together last season.
The year, though, was not without struggles. The biggest piece of adversity facing the Diamondbacks last season was the loss of their star shortstop. Stephen Drew severely fractured his ankle while sliding into home plate. He would miss most of the season and is still not back to 100% now. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the Dbacks could continue to compete with San Francisco after the loss of Drew. Instead, Kevin Towers made the unorthodox move of sending mainstay Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays for light-hitting Aaron Hill and utility man John McDonald. The move worked.
Hill hit .315/.386/.492 in 33 games with the Diamondbacks. McDonald fared far worse, but he played in far fewer games. His impact was less important than that of Hill. As the Diamondbacks marched past the Giants into the postseason, Hill continued hitting. In the play-offs, Hill hit .278/.435/.444.
The Diamondbacks ultimately were bounced by the Brewers in game five of the National League Division Series, but their improbable run last season has fans in Arizona hopeful. The turnaround has been incredible. Arizona went from 65 wins in 2010 to 94 last season. This was due in large part to a change in philosophy after Kevin Towers took over.
Towers hates strikeouts. He moved fan-favorite Mark Reynolds. Towers really hates strikeouts. He moved fan-favorite Kelly Johnson. The moves worked. In 2010, the Diamondbacks struck out 1529 times. In 2011, they struck out just 1249 times.
The changes, both in the team and in management, clearly paid off. The Diamondbacks became one of those rare worst to first stories, and they look poised to maintain their spot atop the National League West.