For Dodgers and D'backs, only one way to reach October
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are, essentially, working without a net. That's true, to some degree, with a lot of other teams this September. But when it comes to pure death-defying, high-wire pennant races between two desperate teams -- mediocre teams, sure, but at least they're fairly evenly matched -- nothing this season can top the National League West.
No wild card is going to be there for these guys when one of them falls. There is no back door into the postseason for the NL West. It's win or hit the concrete for the D'backs and Dodgers. Win or go splat.
This is not good for the Diamondbacks, who at one time this season -- for a large chunk of the early part of the season, in fact -- were thought to be the team to beat in the NL. Now they are flailing around, searching for their ripcord, trying to find some way to keep from taking that final, deadly plunge.
Their ace, Brandon Webb, has lost the sink on his sinker and is suddenly as hittable (a 12.51 ERA in his last three starts) as an Eric Gagne fastball. Their No. 2, Dan Haren, hasn't won in nearly three weeks. Their lineup -- such as it is, such as it ever was -- is as maddeningly un-offensive as it's been all year. Since the last time the Diamondbacks won two games in a row -- Aug. 21, after a sweep of the lowly Padres -- Arizona has a miserable .306 on-base percentage. They are, not coincidentally, 4-11 in that fall.
A three-game lead that they held a little over a week ago has evaporated. After 136 days in first place, the Diamondbacks clunked into second place last weekend during a convincing three-game sweep by the Dodgers. Arizona is now back at .500 and looking at a 1 1/2 game hole, with only three weeks left in the season.
Anybody in Phoenix ever have that dream where you're falling and falling and falling, just waiting to hit bottom?
One of the biggest knocks on baseball's wild card is how it sometimes rips the stuffing right out of a pennant race. Instead of a winner-take-all division race, the loser is often rewarded with a wild card. And being a wild card, remember, is not that bad. Four World Series champions started the postseason as wild cards.
With the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, though, there are no maybes, no questions. This is it. No possible wild card awaits the loser of the NL West (the D'backs trail the Brewers by 10.5 games). The West is a true pennant race, such as it is, moreso than the AL Central, more than the NL East, more than any other division in baseball. The loser of the NL West will not play in October. That's it.
There is some hope for Arizona. In the Diamondbacks' final 20 games, they play just one team -- the Cardinals -- that has a winning record. The Diamondbacks have six games remaining against the Rockies and seven against the Giants. Arizona is 10-2 against the Rockies and 7-4 against the Giants.
Even that, though, may not be enough. The Dodgers have 19 games left in their season. Not one of them is against a winning team. L.A. has six against San Diego, six against San Francisco, three against Colorado and four against the Pirates.
Can the Dodgers continue to pour on the pressure? Will the Diamondbacks somehow turn things around? Are the Giants to play the role of kingmaker here? Will the NL West winner finish over .500?
These will be an interesting final three weeks in the West. The level of play may not score very high on the baseball aesthetics meter, not given what the Dodgers and Diamondbacks have shown us so far this season.
But when it comes to true pennant races -- to the winner the spoils and to the loser the heave-ho -- the weak NL West is as good as it's going to get this year.