The Arizona Diamondbacks are atop the NL West as April comes to a close, thanks to great success against their division rivals.
Now, the owners of baseball’s best record get a chance to prove themselves against the rest of the league.
Arizona, which has played its last 22 games against its own division, will venture out of the NL West on Monday when it kicks off a season-high 10 game homestand with the first of three against the Houston Astros.
The Diamondbacks (18-7) lost two of three in Cincinnati to open defense of their NL West title, but have been on a roll ever since. They’ve played their last eight series against division opponents, posting a remarkable 17-5 record while opening a six-game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers.
No other team in baseball has more than a 2 1/2-game lead, and no other team has won more than 12 games within its division.
“It’s huge for us,” pitcher Brandon Webb told the team’s official Web site. “I don’t know where our lead is and it’s super early, but to get them out of the way early on in the season you get them when you can take them.”
Webb got Arizona its latest victory, a 2-1 win over San Diego on Sunday that boosted the 2006 NL Cy Young award winner to a major-league best 6-0.
Nobody’s disputing Webb’s status as the Diamondbacks’ ace, but he isn’t the only Arizona pitcher to get off to a fast start. The Diamondbacks have the best staff ERA (3.04) in baseball.
Dan Haren (3-1, 3.03 ERA) was acquired from Oakland in the offseason to give Arizona another potentially dominant starter behind Webb. Through his first four starts the right-hander looked like he’d fit the bill, allowing only five earned runs in 25 innings.
Haren was roughed up his last time out, however, giving up six runs - five earned - in 4 2-3 innings of an 8-3 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday.
“I was in trouble the whole night,” Haren said. “It was just a sloppy night for me, but I’ve had bad starts in my career before and it’s all about how you bounce back.”
Not only do the Diamondbacks have the best pitching in the majors, they’ve also scored the most runs (148). Arizona’s offense has been led by third baseman Mark Reynolds (22 RBIs) and first baseman Conor Jackson (20), both of whom are already more than one-third of the way to their RBI totals from 2007.
Houston (12-14) got off to a 6-12 start before reeling off six straight wins, but dropped its final two games at St. Louis over the weekend. The Astros, who scored 44 runs during their six-game streak, put up just four in their two losses to the Cardinals.
Lance Berkman is responsible for much of Houston’s offensive success. The first baseman batted just .241 with four RBIs in his first eight games, but has been on fire since, hitting .361 with six homers and 19 RBIs.
The Astros will hand the ball to Chris Sampson (1-2, 6.38), and while his statistics look unimpressive, much of that damage was due to a start against Colorado during which he lasted only two-thirds of an inning and allowed six runs.
Sampson has a 3.66 ERA in his other three starts, and is coming off his best outing of the season. The right-hander allowed just two runs in seven innings while striking out six in a 9-3 win Wednesday at Cincinnati.
Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young has three hits - two homers - in five career at-bats against Sampson.