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Sunday, August 7, 2011
Giants can't shed Snakes that easily

By Dave Gershman



A week ago today, Arizona Diamondbacks players, staff and fans saw a glaring "3.0" when they looked at the standings in the National League West. That number signified the amount of games they were behind the first-place Giants, who had just acquired Carlos Beltran and seemed to be on a roll. But after taking two of three from the Giants in San Francisco, the Diamondbacks entered the weekend series with a chance to leapfrog the boys by the bay. What better way to do so than by taking on the overly depressing Dodgers? Unfortunately, Saturday night’s game netted the Dodgers the series win, although with the Fightin’ Phillies already taking two from the Giants, things could certainly be worse.

The Diamondbacks have stuck it out thus far into the season. Unlike the Giants, they’ve survived duels with the best teams in baseball and still find themselves just a half-game out of first place. They even made a couple of notable moves as the nonwaiver trade deadline approached, acquiring the likes of Jason Marquis and Brad Ziegler. With fewer than 50 games left to be played, this race is quickly turning into the best team-against-team showdown of the season. The big question is, can the Diamondbacks emerge from this race victorious?

Remarkably, the Giants and Diamondbacks both face 36 under-.500 teams the rest of the way, but the Snakes have more home games remaining. That will obviously work in the D-backs’ favor, but not as much as being away for a majority of the rest of the season is going to hurt the Giants. The Giants have been one of the better teams in the NL at home this year and their abysmal offense fares better at AT&T as well.

In any case, despite losing the past two against the Dodgers, the D-backs have made major strides over the past week, a stretch which was one of their best chances of the season’s second half to do so because of that head-to-head matchup with the Giants. They do play the Giants six more times, but the time your division rival struggles is when you’re supposed to make up ground on them or eclipse them, which is almost exactly what the Diamondbacks have been doing.

Whether it’s a matter of Justin Upton’s excellent 3.8 wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference) or Miguel Montero’s .346 wOBA (from FanGraphs), the Diamondbacks have been a potent club offensively. With the aforementioned additions of Ziegler and Marquis to an already strong pitching staff, the D-backs are in a good situation, because there are few really weak spots on this team beyond compensating for shortstop Stephen Drew’s injury. On the other hand, despite the fantastic pitching staff, the Giants have to work with a below-average club offensively, as their third-to-last .292 team wOBA on the season would suggest.

Saturday, the Diamondbacks took on Dodgers rookie Nathan Eovaldi, who was making his debut. He was no slouch on the mound, blazing 94 and 95 mph fastballs by Arizona’s hitters, and he definitely showed great mound presence. Not to make an excuse, but it’s always hard for hitters facing a pitcher for the first time, especially if that’s the case for every hitter in the lineup.

Still, in the late innings, Chris Young had a chance to tie the game hitting against the often unimpressive Matt Guerrier. He didn’t come through, and neither did any of his teammates. After that, Scott Elbert and his poor fastball command took the stage; despite throwing several pitches to other continents, Elbert still found a way to help net his club a victory.

After the series finale Sunday, the Diamondbacks have a good shot at rebounding -- they face the Astros and the Mets next week, two teams that have dealt with their fair share of struggles this year. Just like last week, it represents a great time for the Diamondbacks to get hot and stay that way.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Hunter Pence and Orlando Cabrera
Hunter Pence didn't just break up this double play, he blew it up.
Dave Gershman is the author of Marlins Daily, an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.