The first-place Arizona Diamondbacks’ drive to reach the playoffs could come down to the final days of the regular season. But they have an excellent opportunity to increase their cushion before then.
The Diamondbacks (88-68) look to hand the Pittsburgh Pirates (66-90) their 10th straight loss when the teams open a three-game series on Tuesday night.
After its series at PNC Park, Arizona will conclude 2007 with three against Colorado, which has won a major league-best eight straight games to become a factor in the playoff race.
The Diamondbacks, who lead the NL West by three games over San Diego, have a magic number of four to clinch their first division title since 2002 and fourth in 10 seasons. They’re 4-2 against the Pirates this season, and have won four of their last five in Pittsburgh.
Arizona, though, missed a chance to increase its division lead Sunday after losing 7-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Whoever said that they’re not watching the scoreboard is probably lying to you,” Diamondbacks rookie Chris Young said.
Doug Davis (13-12, 4.27 ERA) has been a integral part of Arizona’s success this season, but is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in his last three starts. He also is 1-1 with a 6.94 ERA in two starts against the Pirates this season, and 6-5 with a 5.05 ERA in 18 career starts against them.
The left-hander gave up four runs and nine hits while striking out seven in 4 2-3 innings against San Francisco on Wednesday night, but did not get a decision as Arizona won 6-4.
Pittsburgh, which is winding down its 15th straight losing season, is mired its longest skid since dropping a modern-day franchise-record 13 straight from June 15-28. 2006.
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the reigning NL batting champions, is hitting .500 (15-for-30) with a home run and five doubles against Davis. Sanchez, though, is just 5-for-34 with seven strikeouts during the Pirates’ slide.
He went 0-for-3 in an 8-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. The Pirates have scored three runs or less in six of their last eight games.
“Whether it’s the little things or whatever it might be, we’re not doing anything,” Pittsburgh right fielder Xavier Nady told the Pirates’ official Web site. “And it shows. You don’t want to end on something like this.”
Jason Bay, who is tied for the team lead with 21 home runs, went 0-for-2 as he returned to the Pirates’ lineup Sunday after a two-game break. He is 2-for-19 in six games since missing a week with a sore right knee.
Pittsburgh has not been able to take advantage of strong pitching from Ian Snell (9-12, 3.83 ERA) recently, giving him three runs or less to work with in each of his last three starts. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.67 ERA in his last four outings.
He surrendered two runs - one earned - and four hits while striking out five in seven innings of a 5-3 loss to San Diego on Wednesday night.
Snell is 1-0 with a 4.63 ERA in two starts against the Diamondbacks this season, and 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in three career starts against them.