August 18, 2011
The San Francisco Giants might find themselves trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks by 2 1/2 games in the NL West, but the truth is that they've come back from bigger deficits. At this time last year, they were six games behind the San Diego Padres, but rallied magnificently to win not only the division, but the team's first World Series title in over 50 years.
Unlike the Padres, however, the D'backs don't look like a team ready to relinquish their division lead. And despite a 7-5 win over Atlanta that stopped the bleeding on Wednesday, the Giants don't appear ready to take back first place, either.
With that in mind, here are five reasons why the upstart D-Backs will stay on top and make it to the postseason.
1. Hot at the right time: A major factor for the D-Backs' surge has been the emergence of Ian Kennedy(notes) as one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. His 15 wins are tied for the NL lead, and his strikeouts (146), WHIP (1.13) and opponents' batting average (.232) are all among the league leaders.
Kennedy is also one of the top NL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, though he trails the Giants' big three of Tim Lincecum(notes), Matt Cain(notes) and Madison Bumgarner(notes), as well as teammate Daniel Hudson(notes) in that category.
Going into Thursday's outing against the Phillies, Kennedy had won seven straight starts. In each of those appearances, he allowed three runs or fewer. But he didn't faced stellar competition (Dodgers, Mets, Padres) in those games either.
2. Walking wounded: This has been such a rough week for the Giants that the entire next episode of Showtime's "The Franchise" might take place in the trainer's room.
On Tuesday, they placed Carlos Beltran(notes) and Sergio Romo(notes) on the disabled list. Brian Wilson(notes) didn't go on the DL Wednesday, but he did visit Dr. James Andrews, a trip no team wants to see its pitcher take. Jonathan Sanchez(notes) has a sprained ankle. Jeff Keppinger(notes) has a bone bruise in his wrist.
None of these injuries appear to be season-ending, so the Giants could get every one of them back in time for September. But it'll be hard for them to stay in the race if their training room requires a revolving door and the lineup still resembles a Triple-A outfit.
3. The best player: The Giants have been waiting all season for someone — anyone — to break out and be their offensive star. Their lack of punch is likely the main reason that the D'backs have overtaken them in the NL West.
Trading for Beltran appeared to solve that problem, but he's missed the last 10 games with a hand injury.
Meanwhile, Arizona might have the NL's Most Valuable Player batting third in its lineup every night. With a .300/.372/.552 slash average, 25 home runs and 75 RBIs, Justin Upton(notes) might not stand out in an individual category over other MVP candidates, such as Ryan Braun(notes), Prince Fielder(notes), Matt Kemp(notes) or Troy Tulowitzki(notes). But he isn't far behind any of his peers, either.
The tipping point in his favor might be defense. Upton is the best defensive right fielder in baseball, according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Only Tulowitzki is as dominant at his position, arguably the most important on the field.
That total package of offense and defense is why Upton leads all NL players in WAR. The Giants don't have anyone providing that kind of value in their lineup right now.
When J.J. Putz(notes) went to the DL with elbow tendinitis, it looked to be a huge blow for a bullpen that had drastically improved from last season's embarrassment (5.74 ERA). But David Hernandez(notes) stepped right in and pitched even better than Putz, striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings and converting all 11 of his save opportunities.
Willie Bloomquist(notes) has taken over ably at shortstop after Stephen Drew(notes) was lost for the season with a broken leg. Gerardo Parra(notes) has brought more speed and great outfield defense to the lineup. Almost every player in the lineup has been a revelation this year.
5. The trump cards: The D'backs have already gotten help from the minors with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt(notes), outfielder Collin Cowgill(notes), and relievers Joe Paterson(notes) and Bryan Shaw(notes). Pitcher Wade Miley(notes) was recently called up from Class-AAA Reno to replace Jason Marquis(notes) after he broke his leg on Sunday.
But Arizona may still have one card left to play. 2011 first-round draft pick Trevor Bauer is currently pitching in Double-A Mobile. He's struck out 25 batters in 14 innings of minor league work so far.
That's led to rumblings that the D'backs may call up Bauer to help with the playoff push. From all accounts, Bauer has the stuff to handle major league hitters. But his heavy workload in college (136 2/3 innings with 10 complete games) is a concern. Could a pitcher who was throwing for UCLA just two months ago end up being the difference in the NL West race?
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
Reporter who broke SMU scandal: 'Pony Express' fallout led to Miami scandal
Is Brady Quinn pushing Tim Tebow to third on the depth chart?
Cubs fire GM Jim Hendry, don't tell anyone for almost a month