National League West wrapped up?
It’s a bit premature to declare the Diamondbacks champions of the NL West just yet. However, it would take a colossal collapse to allow the Giants to creep back into contention. The D-backs are fresh off a series win in San Francisco that built their division lead to seven games.
With only 22 games remaining in the regular season, the countdown to the division championship is very much under way. Even if the D-backs only played .500 ball for the remainder of the season, the Giants would have to finish with a 18-4 run just to pull even – a feat far-fetched for a team that has struggled since the All-Star break.
The two teams match up once more for a three-game weekend series at Chase Field. For the Giants to have any chance to overtake the D-backs, they would have to sweep that series.
Peaking at the right time
The D-backs traveled to San Francisco with a six-game lead in the division while riding an impressive nine-game winning streak. The D-backs dropped the opener on Friday night, snapping the winning streak and closing the division lead to five.
Saturday showcased an impressive matchup of aces when the D-backs and Ian Kennedy faced off against Tim Lincecum and the Giants. Ian Kennedy once again came out on top – further enhancing his already impressive Cy Young resume and pushing the division lead back to six games.
The rubber game on Sunday represented an opportunity to breathe life back into the Giants’ playoff hopes. Instead, the D-backs rallied late in the contest and cruised to a convincing series-clinching win.
The D-backs left town with a seven-game cushion as division leaders. With less than a month to go in the season, it’s encouraging that the D-backs are building their lead and do not appear content just trying to protect the lead.
The goal now should be continuing the aggressive play with hopes of wrapping up the NL West with at least a week or so remaining. Then the D-backs would have the luxury of setting their rotation for the playoffs and resting players. There’s also the possibility that the D-backs could be within a few games of improving their playoff position.
Make it hurt
One theme that drew a lot of attention throughout the week was the frequency that Justin Upton was hit by a pitch. J-Up is among the league leaders in the painful category.
The situation does bring up some interesting discussions. It’s hard for fans to sit back and watch the star player get abused over and over again, without the satisfaction of seeing some sort of retaliation. It’s unfair and unwise for Upton to charge the mound, taking matters into his own hands.
He is the leader of this team, they can’t afford to live without him and his team is in the midst of a playoff chase. It’s really up to his teammates to have his back. Of course, there’s always the likelihood that a D-backs pitcher will plunk someone on the opposing team but again, the timing has to be right.
Especially likely in the National League when pitchers have to take the plate themselves. For now, the D-backs seem content using Ws as their retaliation method of choice. As much as it would be nice to see someone pay a price for throwing at J-Up, ultimately winning the division and playing with class is a higher priority.
Or they can just do what Miguel Montero did on Wednesday night. With J-Up grimacing at first base, Montero launched a three-run homer deep into the seats in right field. That’s the best way to make em pay.
Swept past under the rug
Last week the D-backs were swept in Atlanta, then dropped the first game of a four-game series in Washington, pushing their longest losing streak of the season to six games. In the process, their lead in the NL West was cut to a single game.
The comfortable cushion that the D-backs built had nearly evaporated seemingly overnight. With three games remaining on the road trip, the season was clearly at a turning point. Fortunately for D-back fans, the snakes were able to put the losing streak to rest in pursuit of a sweep of their own.
Kennedy for President
The D-backs took the field Tuesday night in the nation’s capital with ace Ian Kennedy on the mound. This was a game that the D-backs needed to win to squash the losing streak and preserve their standing atop the NL West.
Kennedy ensured the victory by pitching seven scoreless innings. The win got the D-backs back on the winning path and they haven’t lost since. After winning their final three games against the Nationals, Arizona returned home and pulled off a three game sweep of the San Diego Padres.
Capped off with another Ian Kennedy victory pushing his record on the season to 17-4, a number that should keep Kennedy in the Cy Young conversation.
The current six-game winning streak has helped the D-backs push their division lead back up to four with only 28 games remaining in the season. During the streak, the D-backs have played sound, fundamental baseball, highlighted by the starters being the pitcher of record in all six wins.
This is significant because it’s an indication that the games have gone according to plan. The starters have pitched effectively and deep into games.
The batters are getting runs early enough to allow the starters to pitch with a lead. Finally, relievers are coming in and shutting the door. That’s how the game is supposed to be played. This is a script worth repeating over and over again.
Second baseman Kelly Johnson was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a pair of veteran infielders. Aaron Hill is having a comparable year to Johnson.
Both have been underperforming thus far, but a change of scenery can often revitalize a player’s performance. Hopefully that will be the case with Aaron Hill and the D-backs.
Hill is only a year removed from a monster season where he had 195 hits with 36 home runs and 108 RBIs. Hill displayed some of that power potential on Sunday afternoon when he hit a two run homer against the Padres.
McDonald was brought in to help fill the void at shortstop in the absence of Stephen Drew.
Both players are undoubtedly excited about joining the pennant chase and should be embraced by D-back fans.
Best of times
Tuesday night was the high point of the season thus far for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Knowing they were facing one of their most difficult challenges of the season, the D-backs went into Philadelphia and beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies to start the road trip.
Beating one of the game’s elite pitchers in his home park was a tremendous accomplishment and went a long way towards legitimizing the Diamondbacks as a true contender. The win, coupled with a Giants loss, left the D-backs with a three and a half game lead atop the NL West – their largest of the season.
This marked the first time when Arizona had reached a level of national credibility. Unfortunately, the stay in the luxury suite may have only lasted one day.
Even in the win, there were signs that the good times might not continue rolling. Of course, a win is a win and you take the runs any way you can get them, but in the 3-2 victory, newcomer Lyle Overbay accounted for all three of the D-backs runs. At the time the Diamondbacks were streaking and facing a Cy Young-caliber starter, so it’s easy to dismiss the lack of production and assume the bats would eventually heat up.
Worst of times
The D-backs dropped the final two games in Philadelphia and were swept in a three-game series over the weekend in Atlanta. The five-game losing streak matches a season high – or low – for the D-backs.
Though the losses and lack of production are discouraging, it’s not the end of the world. The D-backs just need to keep battling and finding ways to scrap out victories like they’ve done all season.
The D-backs are still clinging to a one and a half game lead in the division and the Giants are struggling and banged up. This week the Giants placed All-Star closer Brian Wilson on the DL in addition to highly publicized deadline acquisition Carlos Beltran and set-up man extraordinaire Sergio Romo.
While the D-backs still have work to do on the road, the Giants are returning home for some very winnable games. Clearly the D-backs need to get back to their winning ways in Washington if they want to return home in first place.
Someone please FedEx bats to Washington
The D-backs are on the road, but unfortunately it appears they left their bats in Arizona. In the six road games this week, the D-backs are averaging only a run and a half per game. That’s just not going to get the job done.
The pitching staff would need to be perfect in order to pull out a victory. The loss on Sunday was an unfortunate example. Josh Collmenter allowed only one run over seven innings, but ended up taking the 1-0 loss because his teammates couldn’t salvage a single run in the ballgame.
The Washington Nationals shouldn’t be taken lightly, but they’re not on the same level as the Phillies and Braves. Hopefully the bat supply will be replenished in the nation’s capital and the D-backs can finish the road trip in impressive fashion.
Sweep wraps up exciting week for D-backs
Last week’s D-backs Digest provided the script. This week the Diamondbacks followed it to a tee. It was critical for the D-backs to win both series this week – and that’s exactly what they did. After dropping the opener against Houston, the D-backs responded by winning the next six – including a weekend three-game sweep of the New York Mets. Taking six of seven to close the homestand propelled the D-backs into first place in the NL West.
What a difference a week makes
When the week began, the Diamondbacks were still a half game back in pursuit of the San Francisco Giants. Now the D-backs have a two-game lead and plenty of momentum heading into a difficult, long road trip. The D-backs will have to play extremely well on the road in order for the two-game cushion to hold up.
The road trip starts with three games in Philadelphia and Atlanta, then wraps up with a four-game series in Washington against the Nationals. Fortunately, the Giants will spend the week on the road as well with a four games in Atlanta followed by three in Houston. It will be interesting to see if the D-backs can stay hot on the road and also continue to dominate the NL East. So far on the season the D-backs are 32-27 on the road and 14-8 versus NL East opponents. The next 10 days will tell a lot about how the remainder of the season will play out.
D-backs dramatic win on Thursday was Golden
The Diamondbacks win on Thursday night could prove to be one of the turning points in the season. In many ways, the Houston Astros put up more of a fight in the four-game series than expected. The Astros came into the series sporting by far the worst record in the majors.
Houston responded by winning the series opener handily on Monday night. On Tuesday the D-backs needed a heroic comeback to pull off the victory. After a convincing win Wednesday, the D-backs appeared to be finding their grove once again. The D-backs came into game four on Thursday with a chance to extend their NL West lead to a full game with a win. A loss would mean only salvaging a disappointing split in the series and drop the D-backs into a tie with the idle San Francisco Giants.
Once again the D-backs found themselves trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole. The D-backs were down 5-1 heading into the bottom of the 8th inning. After pushing two runs across in the 8th, the D-backs came to bat in the bottom of the 9th still chasing two runs.
With two outs and a runner on, rookie Paul Goldschmidt was called on to pinch hit. Actually, he was called on to hit a miraculous two-run home run to tie the game – and somehow he delivered. Goldschmidt crushed a 2-2 pitch off the façade near Friday’s Front Row that tied the game. Quite a remarkable feat for a player making his first appearance as a pinch hitter, playing in only his ninth big league game and doing so during a pennant chase. Not often do you see a player square up a ball like that under such dramatic circumstances.
The D-backs went on to win the game with a walk-off, three-run homer by Chris Young in the 10th inning, ending one of the most exciting and important games of the season. The D-backs wrapped up a 3-1 series win and headed into Friday with a one game lead in the division.
D-backs hit minor speed bump, remain within striking distance
The Diamondbacks lost a series for the first time in over a month when they dropped two of three over the weekend at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Things could have been worse as the D-backs faced a sweep on Sunday with Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers – Kershaw is the Dodgers’ ace and one of the best starters in the league. Fortunately, the D-backs had their ace pitching as well and, on this day, Ian Kennedy came out on top.
Losing two games to start the series was a disappointment because the D-backs blew a golden opportunity to grab the division lead. So much work had been done on the road, the Diamondbacks were rolling and there was a sense that the fans were starting to back the team.Fans need to stay confident and focus on the positive. The fact that the D-backs went an entire month without losing a series was an impressive stretch–a stretch that brought them to within a half game of the league-leading Giants. All that matters now is what happens moving forward.
D-backs fail to take advantage during first series of home stand
The D-backs left San Francisco on Wednesday only one game out of first place. The Giants left the door open by dropping three of four against the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead of kicking that door wide open, the D-backs picked a bad time to cool off. A D-backs series win against the Dodgers – a team that they should beat – would have propelled Arizona to the top of the standings. The good news is that the D-backs remain only a half game back. At this point, the NL West is clearly up for grabs.
Time is now for D-backs as danger looms
The D-backs have seven games remaining on the current home stand and it is imperative that both series are won to create a little cushion and momentum. On Monday the Diamondbacks open a four-game series with the Houston Astros. Houston is undoubtedly the worst team in baseball. Even a split in this series would be a huge disaster.
On Friday the D-backs host a three-game, weekend series with the New York Mets. Although the Mets are having a decent season, this is another must-win series for Arizona, mostly because of the danger that lies ahead in the form of a 10-game road trip against elite National League teams. The D-backs will play three games in Philadelphia against arguably the best team in the majors, then travel to Atlanta for three against a Braves team that is currently leading the Wild Card standings. The long road trip will wrap up in D.C. with four games against the Nationals.
Even the most optimistic fans have to recognize the challenge and significance for that upcoming trip. This is why the next seven days are critical if the D-backs want to stay in this race for the remainder of the season.