Justin Upton celebrates his solo home run against the Milwaukee Brewers with teammate Roberts in Milwaukee

Plucky Diamondbacks can’t count on a repeat performance


They were the comeback kids of 2011: the Diamondbacks won a major league-high 48 games in which they were trailing on their way to the NL West crown.

Too bad that’s not the kind of thing a team can count on carrying over from year to year.

Ian Kennedy, Miguel Montero, Ryan Roberts, Josh Collmenter, Gerardo Parra all might have had career seasons for Arizona. Starting pitchers Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders likewise exceeded expectations, and the team’s best hitter, Justin Upton, played in 159 games after missing significant time in each of his first three seasons.

It’s not that everything went right for the Diamondbacks; Stephen Drew’s injury was a big inconvenience and the team got little from first base and second base for much of the season.

But more went right than anyone would have counted on six months ago, which is why Kirk Gibson is very likely to be named the NL’s Manager of the Year after the World Series.

It’s not going out on a limb to suggest that things won’t break so well in 2012. Kennedy could be excellent again and still not win 21 games. Roberts is a flawed player, one who will probably need to be returned to a utility role as next year goes along. Collmenter’s funky delivery and two-pitch arsenal probably won’t fool so many hitters.

So, the Diamondbacks need to be aggressive. Adding a legitimate No. 3 starter to pitch behind Kennedy and Hudson has to be the priority. Top prospect Jarrod Parker may be that pitcher as the season goes along, but it’d be for the best if he can start the year in the minors.

The Diamondbacks will also address second base, whether it’s in re-signing free agent Aaron Hill or looking elsewhere. They don’t need to do a whole lot else for the offense. Paul Goldschmidt looks like the answer at first. I’m not sure Parra will hit so well again, but he’s a nice option in left field while he’s cheap. Besides the second baseman, they really just need a solid player to pair with Roberts.

Arizona will likely enter 2012 as the favorites in the NL West, but that simply doesn’t count for much. Let’s hope owner Ken Kendrick untightens the purse strings some more in an effort to keep the Diamondbacks on top.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.