While the NL West looked like a two-team race less than two weeks ago, the surging Arizona Diamondbacks have suddenly joined the party.
The Diamondbacks try to continue their ascent up the standings Friday night in the opener of a three-game set in Philadelphia, where they've lost nine of 10 to the Phillies.
Third-place Arizona (54-51) sat seven games out of first place on July 21 but has climbed to within two of division-leading San Francisco and 1 1/2 of second-place Los Angeles. Though poor play from both the Giants and Dodgers has certainly helped, the Diamondbacks have won 10 of 13 while batting .283 - including a .367 mark with runners in scoring position.
Arizona is coming off its first three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium in five seasons, capped by Wednesday's 4-0 victory. Rookie Patrick Corbin threw six strong innings while Miguel Montero and Chris Johnson both went deep.
"We pitched very well, we swung the bats very well, we hit a couple of home runs virtually every game, so our guys are coming together," manager Kirk Gibson told the team's official website. "It's very nice, it's a good feeling. They've worked hard to fight their way through and get here."
Acquired from Houston on Sunday, Johnson went 6 for 11 with two homers and seven RBIs at Chavez Ravine. He's batting just .256 with one RBI and 14 strikeouts in 11 career games at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies (47-58) have outscored the Diamondbacks 65-22 during their 9-1 home stretch in the series.
Philadelphia returns home after taking two of three at Washington, falling 3-0 in Thursday's series finale. The last-place Phillies, who sent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the Giants in separate deals before Tuesday's deadline, collected just three singles Thursday.
"I think people will still come to see us play," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I hope they do, because I think we're definitely going to keep trying to improve our team, and keep trying to improve what we've got."
Ryan Howard was held out of the starting lineup Thursday before striking out as a pinch-hitter. He's struck out 11 times during a 1-for-16 slump.
Howard is 0 for 6 with three strikeouts lifetime against Ian Kennedy (9-8, 4.20 ERA), who's won a season-best three consecutive starts while compiling a 2.42 ERA and fanning 23 in 22 1-3 innings.
"My command has been better," he said. "Being ahead of guys, it makes a big difference. I watched things on film and tried to think of drills we did in the past. It was getting frustrating, but it's working out now."
Kennedy gave up three homers to the New York Mets' Ike Davis but was otherwise superb Saturday, scattering seven hits and striking out nine over 6 1-3 innings of a 6-3 win. The right-hander's 18 long balls allowed are just one fewer than his total from 2011.
Kennedy is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA over three career starts against the Phillies. He threw a three-hitter against them during a 4-0 win April 25, 2011, then gave up three runs over three innings during a rain-shortened road outing last Aug. 18 as Arizona fell 4-1.
Philadelphia counters with Joe Blanton (8-9, 4.59). The right-hander suffered a hard-luck loss Saturday, yielding two runs and four hits while striking out seven in as many innings during a 2-1 defeat at Atlanta.
Blanton has been knocked around at home of late, going 1-3 with a 6.05 ERA over his last six starts there. He is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA over two career starts against the Diamondbacks, though he hasn't faced them since 2009.
Blanton has had his way with Aaron Hill, limiting him to one hit in 15 at-bats. Jason Kubel has also struggled in the matchup, going 1 for 9.