The Arizona Diamondbacks are seven games up on the defending champion San Francisco Giants. The Giants believe they have an epic comeback in them, but with a lackluster offense and no depth beyond their big pitching aces, the D'Backs trump them in every facet of the game.
Manager Kirk Gibson has the young Snakes playing very good ball and they could very well cause some trouble in October for Philadelphia or Milwaukee. Considering they are probably going to be going up against the powerful Phillies, the D'Backs actually match up very well in pitching depth and offensive balance.
From right fielder Justin Upton carrying the bulk of the load offensively, to J.J. Putz's dominance closing out games and both Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy sitting down hitters at impressive rates, Arizona is looking like a dark horse for the postseason.
Here are four reasons why they have already locked up the NL Western Division crown.
Justin Upton is the biggest difference between the Giants and the Diamondbacks. Even though the Giants went and got Carlos Beltran, no one has been as effective this season as Upton.
Upton, only 24 years old, might just be the next true up-and-coming superstar in baseball. A tremendous athlete, a superb fielder and now emerging as both a power threat and an on-base machine, Upton is carrying a mediocre Diamondbacks lineup to the NL West crown.
Upton, batting .298 with 28 home runs and 83 RBI, is the catalyst for a rather anemic offense. Ranked 19th in the MLB with a .250 overall batting average, the D’Backs are inconsistent at the plate, with a lineup filled with young, raw players and bargain veterans.
Upton has emerged as a bomber this year, truly providing the Snakes with the bite to scare a pitcher. Along with Chris Young, the slugging center fielder, Upton has grown through the Diamondbacks ranks up to the big leagues. He is a homegrown talent.
Playing at spacious Chase Field, Upton has 36 doubles and five triples, giving him an excellent .539 slugging percentage to go along with his .372 on-base percentage.
The only question is will teams pitch to him down the stretch? Upton can do damage on the basepaths, with 19 steals this year, but will still probably be walked in favor of the .235 batting Young or true rookie Paul Goldschmidt, who is only in his second month in the Majors.
Upton is the difference-maker in the NL West. The D’Backs pitching will hold up against weak-hitting NL West foes. With Upton, they have proven they can score runs when necessary.
J.J. Putz, who at the beginning of the season was in danger of losing his role as a closer, could be the difference between the Diamondbacks holding on to the NL West lead as October rolls around and not. With Brian Wilson of the Giants out for an extended time with an arm injury, Putz is the best closer not only in the NL West, but also perhaps out of all the playoff-bound teams.
Putz has converted all of his 19 saves since the All-Star break and currently holds a stellar 2.50 ERA. The owner of a 2-2 record with 49 strikeouts and 37 saves overall, the depth of the Diamondbacks bullpen has allowed Putz to rest occasionally.
Putz only allowed two runs in the month of August. Barring a decline in performance, he will be the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award winner at the end of the season. Putz has been clutch for the D’Backs, who have needed some big-time pitching to give their struggling offense room to breathe.
His 0.91 WHIP gives manager Kirk Gibson the confidence to put Putz out there, along with having quality depth in both relievers David Hernandez and Bryan Shaw.
He will definitely be a difference-maker for the Snakes, who could win or lose home-field advantage or the right to play the Wild Card team instead of the Phillies based on one converted or blown save.
Kennedy, the cast-off New York Yankee, has become the best pitcher on the Diamondbacks' talented squad—and perhaps one of the best starters in the National League this season. Rivaling the talented arms in San Francisco and Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, Kennedy has been lights out this season and has been the answer to the Giants all season.
The best thing is, including his start tonight against the Colorado Rockies, Kennedy has four starts left. Considering Kennedy is 18-4, he has a very good chance to make it to 20 wins for the first time in his career. He will put up quality numbers for the D'Backs as they head into the postseason.
His 2.96 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 194 innings of work is outstanding and he is at the top of all the major categories for pitching. Tied for the NL lead in wins, Kennedy could be a Cy Young dark horse if he continues to throw zeros and lights-out ball.
Kennedy has been dominant against the San Francisco Giants, who he will face once more this season, and has been very good against NL West opponents. All of the rest of his starts should come against NL West opponents, with the exception of one against the eliminated Pittsburgh Pirates.
This shapes up very well for manager Kirk Gibson and the first-place Diamondbacks, who could even serve to give Ian a little rest before they need him as their No. 1 pitcher going into the playoffs.
Catcher Miguel Montero has always been thought of as the catcher coming into his own, but never quite getting there yet. Well, that time has come and it could not have come at a better time. Montero has been red-hot as of late, with three home runs and a couple of doubles in his last seven games.
Splitting just a little bit of time with veteran backup Henry Blanco, Miguel has not been overused this year and is finding his stroke at a time when the D'Backs could really use some protection for Justin Upton.
Montero leads major league catchers in doubles with 32, and with 76 RBI and 15 home runs, Miguel is on to his best season yet. He is only one home run short of his career high and, with 19 more games to play, he should eclipse that rather easily.
Miguel has solidified a lineup that has had weaknesses in it due to the struggles of Chris Young, the injury to Stephen Drew and the inexperience of Paul Goldschmidt. With the slugging Montero riding high, the D'Backs will have no problem winning enough games against NL West foes such as the San Diego Padres, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies to clinch the division and get a good foothold in the race for home-field advantage.