With Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks are now 13-2 in their last 15 games and 15-3 in their last 18, which begs the question: Are they for real?
Over that three week stretch, Arizona has given us a little bit of everything to do with excellence in baseball from dominant pitching, offensive fire power to great managing in close games.
Manager Kirk Gibson has this young team molded with his own personality stamped all over it, but the type of run we just saw looks to be more about a young team overachieving rather than getting ready for postseason play.
When looking at all the teams they ran into during their run, it wasn’t exactly filled with baseball’s best, but more about catching mediocre teams on a slide. Mixed in with those 13 wins were three each against baseball’s worst, Houston and Minnesota. They won two thrillers against the Braves, caught the Rockies in another offensive slump and also took two from the less than fearsome Dodgers attack.
The strength of their pitching has been their bullpen led by an energized J.J. Putz who leads the National League with 16 saves. He has been lights out when given the lead with no blown saves giving the D’Backs all kinds of confidence in close games. They are 26-0 when leading going into the ninth inning.
Ian Kennedy (6-2) has been brilliant at times this season, but the rest of the rotation has been just kind of getting by. Even Daniel Hudson (6-5), who has been better than most expected this season, has been quite fortunate to win some of his games despite allowing quite a few runs.
While Putz and Kennedy have carried the staff, the Arizona bats have boosted the rest of team all season. They currently lead the NL in home runs and it looks like Justin Upton is finally ready to live up to all the potential. But in today’s baseball, you have to have three great starters to compete for a playoff berth and Arizona doesn‘t have that yet.
In this new era of pitching dominating baseball, it will be hard for Arizona to keep up with all the teams that do have the work horses. When the D’backs start facing more competitive teams and winning two of three and three of four, then they’ll be a team heading into August that we can make a case.
As great as 50-1 odds on them to win the World Series may sound, it may be better to pass. The only thing they do have going for them is playing in the NL West where the Dodgers and Padres look like they may be pushovers.
The division will probably have only one playoff team. Right now it looks like the Giants are the team to still beat and we know the Rockies will have one of their mile high runs coming closer to September.
Bobby Jenks was activated from the disabled list Tuesday which probably doesn’t make many Red Sox fans happy because the guy can throw fuel of the fire like maybe only Eric Gagne could in a Boston uniform.
Before his one inning stint in garbage time Tuesday (allowed two quick hits) Jenks had been getting tagged all April – blowing two save chances and losing two others. He is the poster board goat for what was wrong with Boston the first month of the season.
His fastball is no longer fast, and what’s worse is that he knows. This causes him to throw balls nibbling at the plate and missing, allowing more runners to get on base. I have a feeling that his stay in Boston won’t be for very long. Nothing can be more demoralizing to a team than a pitcher taking the mound when the players behind him know he won’t get the batter out.
The worst road team in the NL is so good at home that they are only 2½ games out of first place. After a seven game losing streak in early May, the Milwaukee Brewers have been playing some great ball.
The combination of getting Zack Greinke (4-1) and Corey Hart (5 HR’s) healthy and playing well has been the main reason for the surge. Milwaukee is currently on a 16-5 run and look to have the makings of a team that could contend with anyone because of their staff.
Between Greinke, Yovani Gallardo (7-2) and Shaun Marcum (6-2), this team could go far. While they’d love to have a better bullpen, John Axford and Kameron Loe have been a good tandem to close out games. The Brewers are 28-1 when going into the ninth while leading.
The Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook has Milwaukee 20-1 to win the World Series which shows a great deal of respect for what they’re capable of doing.
Kevin Correia has been at his best away from PNC Park this season sporting a 6-1 record with a 2.35 ERA. Amazingly, he’s had a decision in all 11 starts heading into today’s matchup at the Mets going 7-4 overall. His excellence mirrors what the Pirates have done all season on the road where they have one of the highest payout returns in baseball this season at +939.
Bullpen ‘Changes’ KC
The Royals hope to shake things up for the better by naming rookie right-hander Aaron Crow their closer after Joakim Soria pitched himself out of the role. Monday’s blown save was the final nail in the coffin for Soria, once considered one of the baseball’s best closers.
That gave the Royals nine blown saves in 18 attempts. It didn’t help Soria’s effort to remain the closer that Monday’s loss was Kansas City’s 13th in their last 16 games.
Jeff Francis got the Royals out of their funk Tuesday with a 7-3 win, his second win in his last three starts. The bats helped him out so there was no need for their new closer to make an appearance. This season Crow has been pretty dominant in a set-up role with a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings.
There could be some value in playing the Royals again just because the prices are still going to reflect their rough two week stretch. You know coming into any KC wager that they can hit. They’re currently in the top-10 MLB categories of runs scored (8th), batting average (7th), on base percentage (10th) and slugging percentage (10th).
Now they have a closer who hasn’t had his confidence shattered and should be able to finish a few games off right out of the gate.
Best in the League?
We saw Brandon League go through a nightmarish stretch in the middle of May where he couldn’t close games out. After starting the season perfect with nine straight save conversions, he blew four in a row and took the loss in each.
Since May 18, League has once again been perfect – converting his last six chances with not even a glimpse of a team scaring him. He’s shutting teams down again and makes the Mariners very attractive in almost every game that four of their five starting pitchers take the hill.
The exception is Doug Fister, but even that perception may soon change. Seattle has won two of the last three games the big 6’8″ right-hander has started.
Tuesday night’s Mariners win was the perfect microcosm of their season thus far. They got great starting pitching from Erik Bedard, but couldn’t get anything going at the plate. However, the great starting pitching kept them within two runs.
After some great middle-relief help from their bullpen to maintain the close deficit, Justin Smoak hit a three-run dinger off Jeremy Guthrie in the bottom of the eighth, his only mistake of the night. League then took the mound for the ninth and struck out two batters.
Ball game over.
The Hilton isn’t as impressed by the Mariners as I am. They currently have Seattle 75-1 to win the World Series. It’s a real long shot, but the pitching staff does have me intrigued.
The Ravens Factor
Who needs hitting? It’s being shown that a decent rotation and a premium stopper can win lots of games in a row and contend for a division title. Seems like the Giants have shown the rest of the small market teams how it’s done, with Seattle and Oakland both looking very similar to San Francisco’s 2010 model.
Teams don’t have to hit well to control games. It’s like the old Ravens defense that everyone tried emulate, but it was their bad offense that helped set the tempo of the games and allowed their strength to be maximized late in close games.
It’s no surprise that both the Giants and Mariners, two of the worst hitting teams, have two of the best records in one-run games. It’s almost like that’s how they want it.
Toughest To Take Deep
San Francisco’s pitching staff has been the toughest team to hit home runs against, allowing only 28 long balls. That shouldn’t surprise many because, after all, they are the World Series Champions who relied on that type of stingy pitching to get their rings.
The next two lowest totals come from the AL where Oakland (30 HR’s allowed) and Seattle (33) have a case for being more impressive just because they come from a league with the designated hitter.
Best/Worst Money Teams
If betting every team in baseball all season long, your best earner would be the Indians at +1,704. They have scooped up so much AL money this season that only two other teams show a profit, the Mariners (+334) and Blue Jays (+202).
The NL has seven teams with a positive cash flow with Florida (+900) and Arizona (+868) leading the way. The worst two teams to consistently bet on this season have been the Twins (-1,629) and Rockies (-1,374), two teams that have gotten my share of cash flushed this season.