PHOENIX – One month ago, this conversation would not have existed. In fact, such a dialogue would be considered ludicrous and ridiculous.
Yet, a recent surge by the Arizona Diamondbacks has changed the dynamics. Just a few weeks ago, the Diamondbacks foundered more than 10 games under .500 and heading south. Within the last month, the Diamondbacks gathered a string of victories and pumped life into their life-support monitor. Fortunes continued to rise on Sunday afternoon and that’s because starter Zac Gallen was simply brilliant.
Coming off the National League pitcher-of-the-month for August, Gallen continues to show why is pushing for residency among the elite. In going seven shutout innings Sunday at home against the Brewers, the right-hander stretched his consecutive shutout innings to 41.1 and that’s one inning short of the franchise mark of 42 established by Brandon Webb in 2007. Against Milwaukee, Gallen allowed only three baserunners in his seven innings, walk one, two harmless singles, and fanned seven hitters.
In the process, the 5-1 win by Arizona over Milwaukee before 20,274 Sunday continued their modest surge. The Diamondbacks have now won nine of the past 12 and, coming into play Monday, stand at 64-69. That includes nine games behind San Diego in the NL West standings.
“We have a good thing going right and trying to capitalize on that,” said outfielder Jake McCarthy, who contributed with a 2-for-4 afternoon, a homer, and three RBIs. “It’s a collaborative effort here and there’s confidence when guys like Gallen are on the mound. There’s not a great deal of pressure because we can squeeze one across and get a win with one of these guys. We’re doing it as a group and doesn’t seem like any one guy has a weight on their shoulders. If it’s not you, it’s the guy behind you.”
If Arizona remains in a competitive stride to catch San Diego, there is ample opportunity. Beginning with a three-game series at Petco Park on Monday, the Diamondbacks play seven of their next 13 games again the Padres. That includes four in Chase Field later in September.
At the same time, expectations to climb within the NL West standings are not terribly realistic. The main culprit has been the bullpen and the number of blown saves.
In 49 save opportunities, the bullpen recorded 29 saves. At the same time, the bullpen has a 5.52 ERA in the sixth inning or later and that’s the second worst in the majors.
Just in recent weeks, Ian Kennedy, second on the team in saves, surrendered home runs in potential save situations.
On Aug. 16, Kennedy inherited a 1-0 lead from starter Merrill Kelly into the ninth. A single and home run by San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford resulted in a 2-1, Giants victory and a blown save. On Sept. 3, Kennedy entered a game against Milwaukee and held a 6-5 lead in the ninth. Here, he gave up a pinch homer to Rowdy Tellez to tie the game and the Diamondbacks eventually lost in 10 innings.
From a realistic vantage, the chances of catching San Diego are marginal at best. For that to happen, this would mean the Diamondbacks enter serious contention for a wild card slot, and that appears unrealistic.
Despite the recent surge that fueled a conversation on the rising nature of this team, there is caution.
“I would not call this season as a rebuild,” said field manager Torey Lovullo. “We have been reloading but knew there was an abundance of talent inside of our system. We knew for a long time this organization was rich with great talent. It’s gratifying to see this group of your players come up here and execute at a very high level.”
On the road again …
On Labor Day Monday, the Diamondbacks open a six-game trip. The journey starts in San Diego. Righty Ryne Nelson, named the organization’s pitcher-of-the-year for 2021, receives his first major league start. Nelson draws veteran lefthander Blake Snell (6-7, 3.87). With AAA Reno, Nelson went 10-5 and had a 5.43 ERA in 26 starts.
On Tuesday, look for Merrill Kelly (12-5, 2.84) taking on righty Joe Musgrove (9-6, 3.01). For the Wednesday finale, it’s rookie lefty Tommy Henry (3-3, 4.83) matching up against Yu Darvish (12-7, 3.26), The trip concludes with three with the Rockies in Denver Then, a home stand which will likely define the Arizona season commences. The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers are in for three and the Padres follow with four.