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A formula for turning it around: 6 teams that did it

  • April 1, 2012 - 6:33 PM

A FORMULA FOR TURNING IT AROUND: SIX TEAMS THAT DID IT

Only six times since the advent of divisional play in 1969 has a team lost as many as 95 games and made the playoffs the following season. A look at how those teams completed their turnaround:

1991 ATLANTA BRAVES

From 65-97 | To: 94-68 (1st in NL West)

The formula: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. Young starters John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery all took huge steps forward, and combined with veteran Charlie Leibrandt to go 67-45. All four pitched at least 210 innings, taking pressure off a so-so bullpen, and none of the four had an ERA over 3.80. The Braves also signed a couple of key free agents to make over the left side of the infield in shortstop Rafael Belliard and third baseman Terry Pendleton, who batted .319 with 22 homers and 86 RBI and was named NL MVP.

1999 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

From 65-97 | To: 100-62 (1st in NL West)

The formula: The Diamondbacks became the first team to make the playoffs in their second season of existence. Owner Jerry Colangelo opened his wallet, shelling out $118.9 million in free-agent commitments after the inaugural season, almost half of that sum to ace lefthander Randy Johnson. The free agents also included righthander Todd Stottlemyre and center fielder Steve Finley. The Diamondbacks also added leadoff hitter Tony Womack in a spring training trade and closer Matt Mantei in a key July deal.

2003 CHICAGO CUBS

From 67-95 | To: 88-74 (First in NL Central)

The formula: A new manager, Dusty Baker, the maturation of starting pitchers Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Matt Clement and a series of key trades, two of them at the expense of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs added corner infielders Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek in a preseason deal with the Dodgers, then fleeced the Pirates during the season in trades that brought third baseman Aramis Ramirez, center fielder Kenny Lofton and first baseman Randall Simon.

2007 CHICAGO CUBS

From: 66-96 | To: 85-77 (1st in NL Central)

The formula: Another new manager, Lou Piniella, a $300 million offseason spending spree and a midseason lineup shuffle all contributed to the Cubs' second turnaround in five seasons. The Cubs spent $136 million on free agent Alfonso Soriano and added infielder Mark DeRosa and pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, now a Twin, while also re-signing their own free agent, Aramis Ramirez. The shuffling included moving Soriano from center field to left field, making room in center for ex-Twin Jacque Jones, who batted .285.

2008 TAMPA BAY RAYS

From 66-96 | To: 97-65 (1st in AL East)

The formula: Twins deserve some of the credit for this turnaround, sending righthander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Rays in a deal that brought Delmon Young to the Twins. Bartlett solidified the infield and became team MVP. Garza joined James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson as starters, and the five combined for 64 victories. Veteran closer Troy Percival signed as a free agent and solidified what became a strong bullpen that also included former Twin Grant Balfour.

2011 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

From 65-97 | To: 94-68 (1st in NL West)

The formula: New GM Kevin Towers provided a clinic on how to remake a bullpen -- the single-biggest reason for Arizona's quick turnaround. Towers signed free agent J.J. Putz to be the closer, and traded for setup man David Hernandez in a deal that sent strikeout-prone Mark Reynolds to the Orioles. Other bullpen additions included Joe Paterson, a 2010 Rule 5 draftee, and Micah Owings, a minor league free agent. Towers also made a wise choice in retaining interim manager Kirk Gibson.

DENNIS BRACKIN

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