Posted 08/03/2011 at 03:03 PM
With Tuesday’s win the Arizona Diamondbacks moved into a first place tie with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. Arizona has been hanging around for a while but a 12-6 run since the All Star break has positioned the Diamondbacks for a playoff run. While the NL West is certainly the top goal for Arizona, the recent surge has the Diamondbacks just a game and a half behind the Atlanta Braves in the wild card race, a race that many had already assumed was over.
While the Pirates and Indians have been great stories this season and deserving of the press and attention they have received, Arizona’s turnaround has been just as remarkable. Being a west coast team and a young franchise with limited tradition and history Arizona has often been overlooked but first year manager Kirk Gibson will deserve serious consideration for year end awards no matter how the season turns out. Arizona won just 65 games last season while finishing 27 games out of first place in the NL West, this season they have already won 61 games. Arizona is also the only team in the NL West with a positive run differential, which may be a promising sign moving forward.
The offense lacks star power and the home ballpark pads the statistics to some extent but Arizona has scored more runs than all but two teams in the entire NL. Despite hosting the All Star game Arizona had just two representatives with Justin Upton and injury replacement Miguel Montero. Upton is having a great season and should be mentioned as an MVP candidate but the rest of the lineup features a lot of young players that are posting decent numbers after finally finding regular playing time. The post-break streak has been even more impressive with the loss of SS Stephen Drew to injury.
The reason Arizona is where they are is due to the great improvement on the pitching staff however. Ian Kennedy has blossomed into a legitimate ace in the NL West and Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders have both delivered solid seasons while consistently making starts. The rest of the starts for Arizona have been spread between several other players as Josh Collmenter has done his part since joining the rotation. The addition of Jason Marquis was a needed step to solidify a rotation that is relying on several young arms that have not made it through many full seasons. Micah Owings has also been a great surprise of late in his return to Arizona. The bullpen addition of J.J. Putz has also been one of the best moves of the year as the veteran has provided a great presence and immediately gave Arizona some credibility in the late innings. The bullpen has been a huge area of improvement from last season to this season.
Looking ahead Arizona has a fairly favorable schedule in August. They do play 3-game sets at Philadelphia and at Atlanta but the rest of the schedule features losing teams and many home games following the big division series with the Giants. Arizona and San Francisco will play six more games after this week with a 3-game series in each venue in September. Arizona will also play the final nine games of the season at home so they could have an advantage down the stretch. San Francisco has the superior pitching staff and pennant chase experience but the Giants will face a tough closing schedule with ten of the last 13 games on the road. The Padres and Rockies likely will hold the key to the division with both teams facing them each several times but both may have a decent chance to catch the Braves as Atlanta has a road heavy August schedule and then a tough September featuring the Phillies six times as well as a big series with the Cardinals.