State of Diamondbacks: Similar to 2011?
July, 28, 2012
By Doug Kern | ESPN.com
Getty Images/Jim McIsaac PhelpsJustin Upton and the Diamondbacks are hanging in the race for a postseason spot.
The epic end of the 2011 regular season will go down in baseball lore -- the Boston Red Sox's collapse, the Atlanta Braves’ faltering to lose the Wild Card, Evan Longoria's walk-off to put the Tampa Bay Rays in the postseason.
Lost in the amazement of Sept. 28 was the bigger picture before that, when the Arizona Diamondbacks staged a remarkable stretch run over the final 62 games to overtake the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.
The D'backs finished on a tear -- 41-21 (.661), including a nearly incredible 29-13 (.690) against NL West opponents. They went from trailing the Giants by four games to winning the division by eight.
Justin Upton, who had been averaging a home run every 27 plate appearances, lowered that frequency to 16½ -- mostly by crushing fastballs at a .376 clip (after a respectable .318 earlier in the year). Gerardo Parra hit better than .300 for the final two months.
The team traded second basemen with Toronto, sending Kelly Johnson northward in exchange for Aaron Hill, who promptly led the team with a .315 batting average the rest of the season.
Ian Kennedy won 10 of his last 12 starts en route to a 21-4 overall record. As a team Arizona cut its strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2.53 to 2.11, and raised its on-base percentage from .314 to .336.
J.J. Putz converted his last 24 save opportunities, had an ERA equal to his WHIP (0.77), and averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
Could a similar charge by the Diamondbacks be in order this season?
Friday's 11-5 win against the Mets was Arizona’s 100th game of the season. And the 2012 numbers compare favorably to those at 100 games in 2011.
Despite three fewer wins, the team's batting average is 18 points higher, scoring is up slightly, and hitters are more patient than last season.
The remaining schedule is fairly light, with half of the games being against sub-.500 teams, including 16 against the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies, who bring up the rear of the division.
It remains to be seen whether this season holds similar Diamondbacks in the rough, but there are a few with potential.
Paul Goldschmidt has been feasting on left-handed pitching; his average (.368), slugging percentage (.755), and OPS (1.189) are all among the NL leaders.
Free-agent pickup Jason Kubel is your NL RBI leader with 72, and 11 of his 22 homers have come in July.
Kubel has been a lot more selective on inside pitches this season; his swing rate has gone down four points, and his average has jumped from .179 to .258. And after a slow start, Miguel Montero is hitting .331 since mid-June and chasing a lot fewer pitches out of the zone.
As 2011 taught a lot of teams, a 5½-game lead in either the division or Wild Card can easily be overcome. So if the final pieces in the puzzle fall into place, the NL West could be an interesting division over these last 62 games.