Arizona Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart may have raised a few eyebrows yesterday by claiming that he still felt his team had a legitimate chance to make the postseason. “A lot of things have to happen for us to get into position to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Is that capable of happening? Yes, very, very much capable.”
More from Call to the Pen
- Philadelphia Phillies, ready for a stretch run, bomb St. Louis Cardinals
- Philadelphia Phillies: The 4 players on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore
- Boston Red Sox fans should be upset over Mookie Betts’ comment
- Analyzing the Boston Red Sox trade for Dave Henderson and Spike Owen
- 2023 MLB postseason likely to have a strange look without Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals
A glance at the current standings does not appear to offer the most optimistic of prospects. The D-backs hold a 56-56 record at the moment, 6.5 games behind the Dodgers in the National League West and 7.5 out of the second NL Wild Card spot.
A closer look at the situation, however, reveals a glimmer of hope for the D-backs faithful. Arizona has quietly been playing some of its best baseball of the season lately. Since July 23, they have gone 13-6, including a six-game winning streak from July 25-30. Fortunately for them, this hot stretch has coincided with some less-than-stellar play from the two teams they are trying to catch in the division, the Dodgers and Giants.
Los Angeles has struggled with inconsistent pitching from both its rotation and bullpen, and San Francisco has also scuffled a bit recently. Each has played around .500 ball since July 23, with both posting a 9-8 mark. This has allowed the Diamondbacks to pick up three games in the standings since then. They still have a way to go, but they are certainly moving in the right direction.
Arizona also has several weapons in its arsenal that could prove decisive down the stretch. Any team with Paul Goldschmidt on its roster has to feel at least somewhat bullish about its chances. The first baseman, arguably the most underappreciated star in the game, is currently third in the majors with a 6.5 WAR behind only Bryce Harper (7.2) and Mike Trout (7.0). He also boasts a .337 batting average (first in MLB), 22 home runs, 81 RBI (third) and a 1.028 OPS (second). If you aim to make a late surge into the postseason, Goldschmidt is a guy you want leading the charge.
Goldschmidt hasn’t been the only one contributing, however. He has received ample support in the lineup from outfielders A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Pollock is slashing .311/.366/.477 on the season with 12 homers and 49 RBI. He can also make an impact on the base paths, having swiped 27 bags to date.
Peralta has produced a .301/.366/.520 line of his own along with a league-high eight triples, 11 home runs and 60 RBI. Pollock’s strong performance earned him his first-ever All-Star nod this year, and he and Peralta figure to continue playing vital roles as the D-backs try to make their move.
If this squad has an Achilles heel, though, it likely lies in its pitching staff. Arizona hurlers have put up a 4.03 ERA on the year, good for just tenth in the National League. They have been significantly better since the All-Star break, however, compiling a 3.33 mark that places them third among the Senior Circuit.
A key component of their rotation during the stretch run could be Rubby De La Rosa. Though the 26-year-old right-hander’s overall numbers look like nothing special, he has thrown much more convincingly over the past couple months, posting a 6-2 record and 3.16 ERA since June 14. He has led the way on the mound during the D-back’s recent hot streak, nabbing a win in four of his last five outings.
Arizona has generally been buoyed by strong offensive production and a solid performance from the bullpen. They lead the NL with 508 runs scored (last night’s 11-run second inning helped them get there), and their 3.37 bullpen ERA is fifth-best. Closer Brad Ziegler, a rumored trade candidate before the deadline, has collected 20 saves (out of 22 opportunities) to the tune of a 1.64 ERA. The D-backs will be glad to have him on their side for the remainder of the campaign, closing what they hope will be important games.
Dave Stewart has reason to remain confident in his club, and he seems to understand what needs to happen for them to slip into the postseason. Rival teams will have to keep playing mediocre ball while Arizona extends its nice run. It’s probably a longshot, but MLB has had its share of wild finishes over the past few years, and the Diamondbacks look like a team that could take advantage.