Daily Windup: D'backs not dead yet
Brandon Webb looked in, and Albert Pujols looked out, and it's probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that right then, on a pleasant Monday evening in St. Louis' Busch Stadium, the Diamondbacks' whole season came down to one pitch.
That's how it is now for the Diamondbacks, who at one point this season -- a long time and a lot of bad baseball ago -- seemed like a sure bet to win their second straight National League West title. Now, with only six games left, one bad pitch might very well do in Arizona and send the Diamondbacks fading quietly into the winter.
Not yet, though. Not on Monday night. On a 3-2 count with runners at first and third, with the D'backs clinging to a 3-2 lead, the sinkerballer Webb bent a changeup toward the Cardinals' Pujols, who swung through it to end the inning. Arizona won, 4-2, clawing to within two games of the Dodgers in the NL West standings.
You have to give the Snakes a little credit; they haven't gone belly up yet. After leading the West by 6˝ games late in April, after pushing to 12 games over .500 in mid-May, after leading the division for almost five months of a six-month season only to cough up that lead on Sept. 6, many around baseball figured that the Diamondbacks would simply slither away to some dark place and die.
It hasn't been like that, though. Immediately after losing their lead, the D'backs did struggle, falling 4˝ games behind the Dodgers. But Arizona has won seven of its last eight, matching its best post-April streak of the season. Six of those seven wins have been by two runs or less.
The point is, the Diamondbacks are winning again. They're not giving this thing away. "We're playing with a lot of confidence," Webb -- who picked up his league-leading 22nd win on Monday night -- told reporters after the game.
The Diamondbacks have the type of pitching that could win in the postseason, if they somehow could get there. They're fifth in the NL, giving up 4.32 runs a game, but lately they've been much better than that: Arizona has a 2.28 ERA in its last eight games, and its starters are 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA in that span. Webb is a leading Cy Young candidate
The lineup is the problem. It has been all year. The Diamondbacks average 4.47 runs a game, in the bottom half of the league. They are decidedly average in most every hitting category -- on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, hitting with runners on, etc. -- except one. They strike out a ton. Only the Marlins whiff more.
The Diamondbacks remain a collection of hitters with unfulfilled potential, a bunch of younger guys who are, statistically speaking, average or maybe a little better but who a lot of people feel -- and you can count the Arizona front office in this group -- should be a lot better. For example:
Chris Young is a great talent with a big bat who strikes out too much (161 times, contributing to his .313 OBP). Mark Reynolds struggles horribly with his defense (32 errors at third) but he has some pop in his bat (28 homers, 94 RBIs). He has struck out 198 times, one short of Ryan Howard's single-season record set last year. Stephen Drew has 42 doubles, 11 triples and 20 home runs, but he strikes out (106) way more than he walks (36).
Even over this last eight-game stretch the Arizona offense has lurched a bit. The D'backs have averaged almost 4.9 runs a game in the span, but 13 of those runs came in one rout of the Rockies. In the other seven games the Diamondbacks have averaged just 3.7 runs.
The trouble scoring consistently has put the D'backs in the position they're in now, two games behind a team that they don't play again. Arizona has three more games at St. Louis and three at home against the Rockies. The Dodgers have six remaining: three against the Padres starting tonight, and three at San Francisco this weekend.
This is what it has come down to, finally, for the Diamondbacks. After sitting on top of the division for most of the season, they have to win out and hope for some help. They have to, somehow, start taking smarter at-bats and score more runs. From here through Sunday, they have to make every pitch count.
And even that, in the end, probably won't be enough.