Gibson has turned around Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the midst of one of the more remarkable turnarounds in baseball history. After taking two of three on the road from the San Francisco Giants, the Diamondbacks now lead the National League West by seven games with just 22 left to play.

Should the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, they would be the third team to do so one year after losing 97 games. Arizona would be the ninth team in baseball history to make the playoffs the year after finishing in last place; of those teams, five made it to the World Series, with the 1991 Minnesota Twins being the only team in history to win the World Series a year after finishing in last place.

No team has ever lost more than 91 games the year before winning the World Series. Only the 1987 Twins won the World Series after losing at least 90 games the season before.

One area that the Diamondbacks have excelled this season is hitting in "late and close" situations -- defined as in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck. The Diamondbacks came through again in San Francisco on Sunday, scoring four runs in the eighth inning after trailing 1-0.

In 2010, the Diamondbacks hit .222 in late and close situations, which ranked fourth-worst in the league. This season, no team has been better (see chart).

Highest BA This Season
Late and Close Situations

Who are Arizona’s best players in such spots?

Justin Upton is one; however, with Upton getting ejected in the fourth inning on Sunday, others had to come through. One who did was Ryan Roberts, who has had a terrific season as Arizona’s everyday third baseman. Roberts this seasn is 22-for-59 (.373) in late-and-close situations with 14 walks and 10 RBI.

This may be a trait that the Diamondbacks picked up from their manager, Kirk Gibson, who was the master of one late-and-close situation. He had four regular-season, come-from-behind, walk-off home runs (walk-offs with team trailing at time).

When you include Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 walk-off HR, his five would match the most ever, shared by Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson and Fred McGriff.