The Arizona Diamondbacks, it seems, have been flirting with the .500-mark since mid-July while the first-place Giants and second-place Dodgers have flip-flopped for the NL West lead over the past month.
Yet while San Francisco and Los Angeles hold a winning-percentage advantage over Arizona, the D-Backs can count 10 distinct advantages over their top two division foes.
From personnel to performance and statistics to schedule, these are 10 advantages the Diamondbacks have over the Dodgers and Giants.
Trevor Bauer, Trevor Cahill, Josh Collmenter, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley and Joe Saunders have all started a major league contest for Arizona this season and in addition to the club's depth that has been seen on the MLB field, pitchers such as Tyler Skaggs or even Charles Brewer may be trade bait or subject to call-up this season.
When it comes to pitching, perhaps no D-Backs starter has been as dazzling and surprising as sophomore Wade Miley, who has already posted 11 wins to accompany a 3.11 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.
A 2012 NL All-Star, Miley is the real deal and has put together a better season than both former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw—in the wins department, Miley's 11 victories are equal to Kershaw's seven plus Lincecum's four.
The NL West has a future in pitching and that future runs through Phoenix.
When asked about the likelihood of a Justin Upton trade, D-Backs GM Kevin Towers retorted it was a "reasonable assumption" that no trade would occur.
Upton, who has hit .271 with a .768 OPS in 92 games this season has also recorded a significantly better on-base percentage—the Moneyball category—than Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp since Kemp's return from injury.
Since Kemp's return, the Dodgers outfielder has put together a .339 OBP, compared to Upton's July OBP of .364, which mirrors his year-to-date OBP. By comparison, Andre Ethier's 2012 OBP is also—you guessed it—.364.
Over in the Bay Area, Gregor Blanco, who most often plays Upton's position at AT&T Park, holds a 2012 OBP of .341 and just .328 in the month of July. Nate Schierholtz, the No. 2 man on the depth chart, has a .320 OBP.
Baseball is often a station-to-station affair, so even if Upton happens to be in a power slump, he clearly has continued to consistently get on base.
With Upton under the weather, someone has to provide the balance between getting on base and getting the big hit.
Enter D-Backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Compared to his L.A. and S.F. counterparts, Goldy's OPS is No. 1: After slugging and running his way to a .808 OPS in 2011, Goldschmidt has improved the mark to .881 in 2012, better than Dodgers first baseman James Loney's .636 OPS and better than Giants first baseman Brandon Belt's .716 figure. And if you were wondering about backups Juan Rivera (.661) and Aubrey Huff (.554), there is no contest.
I could mention batting average, on base percentage and slugging, but it would just be more of the same—Goldy's numbers sweep all those categories.
While the Giants and Dodgers are 29th and 30th (last place) in MLB when it comes to home runs hit, the Arizona Diamondbacks rank an admirable 15th, having hit 40 more dingers than the 29th-place Giants.
When it comes to slugging percentage, the D-Backs are eighth nationally (.427), while San Francisco (.383) and Los Angeles (.362) are both in the bottom third of all MLB squads. OPS provides an even greater disparity: Arizona's .761 mark is significantly better than San Francisco's .704 and Los Angeles' .679.
Arizona is clearly the more powerful team.
Before a player like Gerardo Parra can run around the bases, he must get on base.
Sure, we're all familiar with the standard base hit, but as they say, "a walk's as good as a hit."
Compared to Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Diamondbacks are especially adept at biding their time and taking the free pass; the Diamondbacks are fifth in all of baseball in walks received, compared to the eighth-place Dodgers and 23rd-place Giants.
Ariznoa also leads the list when it comes to hit by pitches, which, while more painful than walks, also results in baserunners.
The D-Backs get on base just fine, which in turns leads to...
With 444 runs scored, the Diamondbacks have crossed home plate more times than the Giants (398) and Dodgers (387), suggesting that Arizona is a better all-around offensive team than both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The D-Backs also lead the trio in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, RBI and total bases, confirming the hunch. Arizona is mathematically the better producing team in its half inning. Harnessing this propensity to score is a key advantage as the playoff hunt begins to heat up.
Though the National League's top two Wild Card teams play a one-game playoff to determine who will advance to the NLDS, MLB considers both Wild Card teams "postseason-bound," meaning that Arizona is closer to the postseason than they would be had the playoff structure not changed to accomodate a second Wild Card.
Just 5.5 games out of the NL Wild Card, competing with a fledgling Los Angeles club and a Pittsburgh Pirates squad that has not had a winning record in 20 years, the Diamondbacks are in prime position to capture a post-season berth in 2012.
Their elimination number is 59 and with just 63 games left to play, Arizona will need to continue playing .500-ball—and hope their opponents also however around that mark—to make the postseason.
This has happened before.
Last season, with San Francisco heavily favored to take the West, Arizona completed an improbable worst-to-first turnaround from 2010 to take the NL West crown and return to the postseason.
This season, with San Francisco and Los Angeles fighting over control of the NL West, Arizona is once again the division's forgotten threat.
So while the Giants and Dodgers continue to fight for first place, Arizona can sit back, relax and get ready to pounce. After all, they would be wise to bide their time because...
...when the Diamondbacks get through July and August, the club will be handsomely rewarded in September.
Other than playing the Dodgers and Giants 13 times, Arizona will have one of the league's most relaxed schedules during the season's final month.
Good thing this is not the BCS—no strength of schedule considerations here.
Compare Arizona's schedule to that of the second-place Dodgers—who play the red-hot Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds—and it is quite reasonable to predict a potential shakeup in the NL West late this season.