The 2007 Diamondbacks did not have a whole lot of expectations. They were coming off a fourth-place finish the season prior and had not made the playoffs since 2002. Yet, despite doing very little to improve their roster, the D-Backs shocked the baseball world and found their way back to October ball. How did a team that produced average numbers at best make a run into the postseason?
2007 D-Backs: Background
In 2006, the D-Backs went 76-86, finishing tied with the Rockies for last place in the National League West. Arizona’s roster was led by reigning Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb, but they didn’t have any other stars around him. Their only above-average hitters by OPS+ were young first baseman Conor Jackson and second baseman Orlando Hudson. Fireballing closer Jose Valverde endured a rough season and had lost his role to mid-season acquisition Jorge Julio. Former All-Star Shawn Green was disappointing and eventually traded to the Mets, while veterans Tony Clark and Craig Counsell failed to produce.
In the 2006-07 offseason, the D-Backs watched franchise icon, Luis Gonzalez, sign with the Dodgers. As one fan-favorite left though, another returned home. The D-Backs traded a package of four players to the Yankees to bring back Randy Johnson, who desired to be closer to his family. Entering his age-43 season, the five-time Cy Young award winner had shown signs of age during his two years with the Yankees, pitching to a 5.00 ERA/4.27 FIP (90 ERA+) in 2006.
Mid-rotation stalwart Miguel Batista also departed, signing a deal with the Mariners. Counsell’s tenure in Phoenix ended too, as he signed with the Brewers. The D-Backs also sent righties Claudio Vargas and Greg Aquino, along with catcher Johnny Estrada to the Brewers for righty Doug Davis, southpaw Dana Eveland, and outfielder Dave Krynzel. Late into Spring Training, the D-Backs sent Julio to the Marlins in exchange for young righty Yusmeiro Petit.
Replacing Counsell was former first-round pick Stephen Drew, who performed well in a 59-game stint in Phoenix in 2006. Top prospect Chris Young was slated to take over Gonzalez’s playing time, while former top-20 prospect Carlos Quentin was expected to man right field. 26-year-old Chris Snyder was inserted into the everyday catcher spot, with youngster Miguel Montero penciled in as his backup.
Veteran speedster Eric Byrnes rounded out the outfield, while Hudson, Jackson, and Chad Tracy remained in their positions on the infield. Webb was once again leading the rotation, followed by Johnson, Davis, Livan Hernandez, and Micah Owings. This relatively young roster paled in comparison to the rest of the division and seemed as if they were still a ways away from contending.
Early Going: Hot and Cold
The D-Backs started out the year 7-2, winning six games in a row after losing their first series of the year. They then lost 9 of their next 12 games, putting them back below .500. However, they ended the month by winning six in a row, taking a half-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. The only standout hitter was Hudson, who was hitting .352 with a .929 OPS. Johnson missed most of April, but returned late in the month, while Valverde racked up 10 saves. Webb bounced back from some rough outings by throwing seven innings of one-run ball to finish the month, while Davis turned in a 2.79 ERA.
Arizona started out May by losing their first five games and by May 16, they were four games back in the division at 21-20. However, they won 10 of their last 13 games to end the month, including the last seven games of it. While “O-Dog” had cooled off considerably, Eric Byrnes caught fire, raising his OPS up to .884 on the year. Tracy struggled with injuries, paving the way for slugging prospect Mark Reynolds to come up to Phoenix, and he went 24-for-53 with four homers, five doubles, two triples, and 15 RBIs in his first 15 games. Webb had a down month, but Johnson showed signs of his old self, and Valverde racked up nine more saves.
Midseason: Staying Afloat
The D-Backs began June by winning four of their first five games, raising their record to 36-24. Unfortunately, they lost six of their next seven, including a sweep at the hands of the Yankees. While Arizona went on to win seven of their next nine against the Orioles and Devil Rays, they lost five of seven to end the month. While the D-Backs still finished with a 14-13 record for June, they had a -19 run differential, and while Webb had a fantastic month, everyone else on the staff took a step back. Offensively, Byrnes kept hitting and Hudson had a solid month, but Reynolds cooled off considerably. Valverde still racked up seven more saves, giving him 26 on the year with a 2.70 ERA.
Arizona ended the first half by losing seven of their last eight games. To add insult to injury, Johnson re-injured his back and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. At 47-43, the D-Backs were now in third place, 3.5 games back of the Padres. Arizona did have three All-Stars though in Webb, Valverde, and Hudson.
Dog Days of Summer
Coming out of the All-Star break, the D-Backs were able to rebound, due in large part to an eight-game winning streak from July 21-28. By the end of the month, Arizona was back in first place by a game, though their 13-13 record in July also came with a -23 run differential.
As the Trade Deadline neared, the D-Backs had a glaring need for offense, as only Byrnes, Hudson, and Jackson were producing at an above-average level. The bullpen was the team’s biggest strength by far, with Valverde, Tony Peña, Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten, and Juan Cruz all pitching spectacularly. Webb continued to lead a surging starting rotation, with Owings picking up the slack after Johnson’s injury.
Yet despite their need for offense, Arizona did very little at the deadline. The only move they made was trading backup outfielder Scott Hairston to the Padres for minor league reliever Leo Rosales. In early August, the D-Backs claimed 37-year-old Jeff Cirillo off waivers from the Twins, but the former All-Star was only used sparingly. The D-Backs also brought back an old friend in Byung-Hyun Kim, but he was released after two disastrous outings. Arizona was able to keep the good times rolling though, winning 12 of their first 16 games in August, extending their division lead to five games.
Towards the end of August though, the D-Backs ran into another rough patch. They went just 4-8 the rest of the month, including losing three of four in a crucial series with the Padres. In under two weeks, Arizona’s five-game lead vanished and they were once again tied with San Diego. For the third consecutive month, the D-Backs had a negative run differential, as their offense continued to struggle.
September: More Ups and Downs
After a loss to the Padres on September 3, the D-Backs fell out of first place for the first time since July 27. However, Arizona responded by winning their next six games, taking a 3.5-game lead. After winning four in a row from September 18-22, the D-Backs were 88-67 and still held a 2.5-game lead over the Padres with seven games to go. Surprisingly though, Arizona dropped two games to the 66-90 Pirates, while the Padres and the surging Rockies gained ground. To finish out the year, the D-Backs traveled to Denver to face the Rockies, while the Padres headed to Milwaukee for a four-game set with the Brewers, who were already out of the playoff picture.
The Padres took the first two games of their series, while D-Backs were able to take the first game from the Rockies behind seven solid innings from Webb. The Rockies jumped all over Edgar Gonzalez in the second game though, and Troy Tulowitzki‘s fifth-inning grand slam punctuated an 11-1 Colorado victory. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, the Padres handed Trevor Hoffman a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning. After Corey Hart hit a one-out double, Hoffman struck out Laynce Nix, but Tony Gwynn Jr. smacked a pinch-hit RBI triple, evening the game up at 3. Vinny Rottino hit a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning, keeping San Diego from gaining ground in the NL West.
In game 162, Arizona’s bats struggled to get going, and a three-run Colorado rally in the eighth inning gave the Rockies a 4-1 lead heading into the ninth inning. The D-Backs were able to score two runs against Manny Corpas in the top of the ninth, but Drew’s comebacker ended the rally. In Milwaukee, the Padres jumped on Jeff Suppan and held a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the fifth. However, the Brewers responded with four runs in the frame and tacked on three more in the sixth. Despite four San Diego homers, the Brewers held on to win 11-6, meaning the D-Backs had clinched the NL West, while the Padres were now forced to play in a tiebreaker game with the Rockies.
Final Regular-Season Numbers
The D-Backs finished with the best record in the NL at 90-72. Offensively, Byrnes was their best all-around player, hitting .286/.353/.460 (103 OPS+) with 21 homers, 30 doubles, 8 triples, and 50 steals. Byrnes also had 3.7 rWAR and finished 11th in MVP voting. Hudson, Jackson, and Reynolds all OPSed over .800 too, while Young hit 32 homers and stole 27 bases. However, Young’s numbers were weighed down by a .295 OBP and he had just 0.7 rWAR and an 88 OPS+. Overall, the D-Backs averaged just 4.4 runs per game, which ranked third-worst in the NL.
On the pitching side, Webb backed up his Cy Young-winning performance by going 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA/3.24 FIP (158 ERA+), a 1.189 WHIP, and 194 strikeouts in an NL-leading 236.1 innings (7.4 K/9). Webb finished second in Cy Young voting behind Triple Crown winner Jake Peavy. No other Arizona starters had an ERA under 4 though, but the team’s 4.13 ERA was good enough for fourth in the NL. The bullpen was solid, led by Valverde, who paced MLB with 47 saves, and with strong overall seasons from Peña, Lyon, Slaten, and Cruz. All five of those relievers finished the year with ERAs under 3.30.
All told, the D-Backs finished the year with a -20 run differential, giving them a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 79-83. Arizona went only 36-36 against NL West teams, but they were 32-20 in one-run games, while the Padres were 23-26 in one-run games. They also went a combined 17-3 against the Marlins, Phillies, and Nationals, while the Padres went 11-9 against those teams. The D-Backs also went 50-31 at home, which offset their 40-41 road record. Arizona was set to face off against the NL Central champion Cubs in the NLDS.
NLDS: Magic Keeps Going
Game 1 of the NLDS was a pitchers’ duel between Webb and Carlos Zambrano, with Arizona mustering just a solo homer from Drew and Chicago getting an RBI single from Ryan Theriot. Webb held the Cubs to just four hits and one run with nine strikeouts in seven innings. Reynolds hit a solo homer off Carlos Marmol and Jackson followed up with a sac fly, giving Arizona a 3-1 lead in the seventh. After Lyon worked a scoreless eighth, Valverde worked around a two-out walk to secure the victory.
The Cubs struck first in game 2 with a Geovanny Soto two-run homer off Davis in the second inning. The D-Backs responded in a big way though, with Young smacking a two-out, three-run homer off Ted Lilly. Byrnes added an RBI triple, and Arizona never looked back. Davis battled through 5.2 innings while Cruz, Peña, Lyon, and Valverde recorded the last 10 outs of the game. Drew hit a two-run triple, and Augie Ojeda got two hits as the D-Backs took a 2-0 series lead with an 8-4 victory.
Young made his presence known immediately at Wrigley Field, hitting the first pitch of the night from Rich Hill out of the park. Justin Upton added an RBI single later in the inning, and that was more than enough for Hernandez, who allowed one run through six innings despite walking five batters. Byrnes and Drew both chipped in solo homers, and Peña, Lyon, and Valverde once again pitched scoreless innings, sealing a three-game series sweep.
NLCS: Magic Runs Out
In the NLCS, the D-Backs matched up with the red-hot Rockies, who won 14 of their last 15 games of the regular season (including game 163 against the Padres) and had just swept the Phillies in the NLDS. The Rockies attacked Webb for four runs in six innings while the D-Backs could not get anything going in a 5-1 loss. In game 2, the D-Backs tied the score at 2 in the ninth inning on a Kazuo Matsui error, but Valverde lost the strike zone in the 11th inning, allowing the game-winning run to score on a walk.
Arizona’s offense once again lay flat in game three, mustering just one run against Josh Fogg. In the bottom of the sixth, Yorvit Torrealba broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out, three-run homer off Hernandez. The D-Backs couldn’t do anything against the Colorado bullpen and fell into a 3-0 series hole.
Arizona led 1-0 in game 4, but the Rockies fought back in the fourth inning against Owings, with Seth Smith knocking a two-run double. With two outs in the inning, Jackson committed a key error, extending the inning for Matsui, who hit an RBI single. Matt Holliday cracked a three-run homer, capping off a six-run rally that Arizona couldn’t undo. Snyder brought the D-Backs closer with a three-run homer in the eighth inning, but that was as close as Arizona would get. The D-Backs got Clark to the plate as the tying run, but he struck out against Corpas. They got the tying run to the plate again in the ninth inning, but their season ended with Byrnes grounding out to Tulowitzki.
Ensuing Years: Back to Reality
Despite adding the likes of Dan Haren and Adam Dunn to their team in 2008, the D-Backs slipped back out of the playoffs. They finished in last place in the NL West in 2009 and 2010 and would not make it back to October ball until 2011. While the D-Backs have had some rosters with significantly more talent than the 2007 team, they haven’t made it back to the NLCS since that year.
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