Losses in seven of their last nine games, including two defeats to their closest pursuer, prevented the Arizona Diamondbacks from pulling away in an NL West race that’s there for the taking. Perhaps a diminutive infielder with two World Series rings will help them claim the division in the season’s final weeks.
The Diamondbacks are expected to have David Eckstein in uniform Monday night when they open a three-game set against the Cardinals, one of his former clubs.
Arizona (69-67) dropped the final two games of its weekend series against Los Angeles, trimming its West lead to 2 1/2 games over the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks fell 8-1 on Sunday as NL Cy Young hopeful Brandon Webb was hit hard, one night after losing 6-2 with Dan Haren on the mound.
Arizona will now begin its season series with the Cardinals (74-63), who trail Milwaukee by 6 1/2 games for the NL wild-card lead. These clubs meet again for four games in St. Louis from Sept. 22-25.
The Diamondbacks will likely have Eckstein, who had been toiling for a non-contender in Toronto, in the lineup after acquiring him Sunday in exchange for a minor league pitcher.
“I’m definitely very excited with the opportunity to go out there and make the postseason,” Eckstein said. “You play this game to win a world championship, so that’s hopefully what we’ll be able to try to accomplish.”
The 2006 World Series MVP with St. Louis, Eckstein was batting .277 with one home run and 23 RBIs in a part-time role for Toronto. He also helped the Los Angeles Angels win the 2002 World Series, and is now expected to split playing time at second base with Augie Ojeda.
Eckstein, who batted .297 in three seasons with the Cardinals from 2005-07, did not face St. Louis in interleague play with the Blue Jays this season.
Arizona starter Randy Johnson (10-9, 4.02 ERA) is 1-2 over his last five outings despite a 2.88 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 34 1-3 innings. The left-hander, who turns 45 next week, hasn’t received much help from the Diamondbacks’ offense in that span, getting 12 total runs of support
The Big Unit put in another strong performance Wednesday, yielding three runs and five hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings, but left without a decision in a 5-4 loss to the Padres.
Johnson has not faced the Cardinals since June 11, 2005, when he beat them while with the New York Yankees.
The Cardinals’ playoff hopes took a significant dent over the weekend, as they dropped three games at Houston capped off by Sunday’s 3-0 defeat, during which St. Louis produced nine singles but hit into two double plays and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We know we’ve got to win games in order to be in it,” Cardinals right fielder Ryan Ludwick told the team’s official Web site after going 0-for-11 with an RBI in the series against the Astros. “We’ve just got to finish the last month strong. Hopefully we can mix in an eight-, 10-, 12-, 15-game winning streak. That would be nice. It’s do-able. It’s not like it’s not do-able.”
St. Louis has not won 15 consecutive games since April 24-May 16, 1887.
Joel Pineiro (6-5, 4.83) returns to the Cardinals rotation after he made one relief appearance in an 18-3 win over Atlanta on Aug. 22. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits in three innings to get the save.
Pineiro had been 3-0 with a 3.60 in his three previous games - all starts.
The Diamondbacks have won the last six meetings between these clubs in Arizona.