Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
The Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks have been two of baseball’s most surprising teams in 2011. Both teams have surpassed expectations and sit near the top of their divisional standings.
The D-backs are set to host the Tribe in a three-game set this week in the final home series at Chase Field before the All-Star break.
Arizona enters tonight’s series at 43-36 and 1.5 games out of first place in the NL West, while Cleveland owns a 40-36 record and trails first place Detroit by 1.5 games in the AL Central division race. After suffering 93 losses a season ago, few saw the Indians competing for a division title this season.
“They surprised everybody,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “Their bullpen is the best in the American League. They’ve got some very athletic kids. They’re going to throw seven left-handers at us tonight. They’re very aggressive. They play good defense.”
In the bullpen, closer Chris Perez has locked down 18 saves. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera makes highlight-reel plays on a routine basis, while designated hitter Travis Hafner is red-hot with a .338 batting average.
Prior to Monday’s series opener, Cleveland promoted former first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall from Triple-A Columbus. With both teams just 1.5 games out of first place, it’s sure to be entertaining.
“We saw it in Spring Training, and they’ve carried it into the season,” Gibson said. “This game is very unpredictable. It’s a credit to them as to where they’re at today. Just like the last opponent, they’ll be very tough for us.”
Gibson reflects on his days with Sparky
Throughout Gibson’s tenure as D-backs manager, he’s spoken of the impact his former manager Sparky Anderson had on him.
Gibson played for Anderson’s Tigers from 1979 to 1987. Under Anderson’s direction, the Tigers won 104 games in 1984 en route to a World Series championship.
On Sunday, the Tigers honored Anderson by retiring his famous No. 11. Since the D-backs were in Detroit wrapping up a three-game series, Gibson and bench coach Alan Trammell were on hand to witness the tribute.
“Sparky’s had a huge impact on me, and Alan, and so many other people,” Gibson said. “He was represented very well yesterday by the speeches, the video, just talking to the people, and to see the Detroit fans react the way they did…”
Although Gibson last played for Anderson over two decades ago, his impact is still felt to this day.
“It’s why I’m the way I am,” Gibson said. “He’s affected me more so than anybody I’ve been associated with in the game. He certainly taught us how to play the game and how to act professional and a lot of the things that I preach here, but he really cared about you as a person.”