Diamondbacks Record: 14-13, 2nd place
The Diamondbacks last 15 games came against NL West rivals, and the Snakes managed nine wins over that span. This is exactly what the team needed. They are now just one game behind the division-leading Rockies in the topsy-turvy NL West.
But the real challenge begins as the Diamondbacks begin an eleven game stretch in which they face the NL Central, baseball's toughest division so far. No fewer than five of the Central's six teams have a record that would be good enough for first place in the NL West. So the question we will have answered in the next two weeks goes like this: The D'backs have beaten the West, but can they beat the best?
May 3-4: vs. Chicago Cubs (14-11)
It might be easy to overlook a Cubs team that doesn't feature Derrek Lee, the NL's best hitter last year. What can Aramis Ramirez and his 10 RBIs do to hurt us? It might be easy to look at Greg Maddux's 1-8 career record (4.97 ERA) against Arizona and not fret. Why get all into a tizzy about Rich Hill, a rookie who walked 17 batters in 23.2 IP last year?
The thing to remember is that the Cubs still have a better record than anybody in the NL West. Even though they won't score a ton of runs, they are able to score runs consistently thanks to their newfound ability to manufacture runs similarly to how their South Side counterparts did last year en route to a World Series championship. Juan Pierre's .276 OBP may not look like much, but when you factor in all of the times he has reached due to errors by infielders hurrying to throw him out, he's reached base 32.4% of the time and scored 18 runs. Craig Counsell has scored 17 despite a .381 OBP.
All four pitchers in this series are products of the Cubs organization. Despite Maddux's troubles with the Diamondbacks, it's impossible to overlook the likelihood that he's this year's Roger Clemens. Batista has allowed 39 hits in just 27 innings, but has always been a streaky pitcher and might turn things around. Hill may have struggled in his brief callup last year, but has struck out 514 batters in 370.1 minor league innings. Juan Cruz has had his struggles in the bullpen, yet boasts a career 3.93 ERA as a starter. Expect a low-scoring series.
May 5-7: vs. Cincinnati Reds (19-8)
5th: Elizardo Ramirez at Brandon Webb
The Reds have the best record in the majors. Everybody who predicted that raise your hand. I thought so. The Reds have also scored the most runs in the National League. That's not too surprising, since they did so last year as well. The shock is that Cinci's starting pitching has been competent. We've always said that decent pitching is all that the Reds would need to compete, and they're proving our theories to have been understated.
The Reds are actually in a similar position to Arizona in that each of them has an overpaid starter on the DL that probably serves the team best in that role. The difference being that the Diamondbacks had demoted Russ Ortiz to the bullpen before he got injured, whereas the Reds seem inclined to stick with Milton until the bitter end. So when Milton gets off the DL, we can expect the Reds to falter a bit.
But the Diamondbacks must face Elizardo Ramírez, Milton's replacement, to open the series. He'll draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez not so much because of his stuff as because he needs to fill his pockets with rocks to get listed at 180 pounds. He's had two solid starts so far, but may need to be better than that to beat Brandon Webb, whose groundball tendencies could negate the Reds' home run power. Bronson Arroyo has been terrific (5-0 2.06) while Dave Williams has been atrocious (1-2 7.61), so the expectation is that those two games will be split. It's encouraging to see the Diamondbacks matching up so well with the hottest team in baseball.
May 9-11: at Pittsburgh Pirates (8-20)
9th: Miguel Batista at Ian Snell
10th: Juan Cruz at Paul Maholm
11th: Brandon Webb at Oliver Perez
As good as the Reds have been thus far, the Pirates have been terrible. For that, you can blame their leadoff men hitting under .200 a little bit, and their inconsistent starting pitching a lot. Ian Snell had allowed 16 earned runs in his first 15 innings before surrendering just two in his past 13. Paul Maholm boasts a 3.86 ERA at home, but admits a 10.00 road ERA. Oliver Perez looked dominant on Opening Day, striking out nine and allowing three hits in 5.1 IP. But in five starts since then, he's pitched 23.1 innings, allowing 36 hits and seven homers en route to an 8.87 ERA, and striking out four fewer batters than he has walked.
One important thing to note about the Buccos is that Maholm isn't the only one performing better at home. They have a respectable .764 home OPS but a pathetic .659 road OPS, a big reason why they have gone 6-7 at PNC but 2-13 on the road. But the Diamondbacks do get to face the Pirates at Chase later this month, and they should feel fortunate to play the Pirates solely in May. Their inconsistent rotation, which contains only one pitcher older than 24, might have things figured out by August.
May 12-14: at St. Louis Cardinals (17-10)
Probable Pitchers: TBD
Not much new here. The Cardinals may not have the best record in the NL, but they are still the team to beat. The one concern for them right now is health. Albert Pujols, whom you may have heard of, has had a very sore back since sliding into first base on April 23rd. His production hasn't tailed off any, and he's played through worse injuries before, but it's something that bears watching. On the other hand, Jim Edmonds has missed five starts this year with a sore shoulder. It has been affecting his performance; he's hitting just .200 on the year.
As far as pitching goes, yeah, you hope to avoid Carpenter, but there's also no real weak link in the rotation to shoot for. For the record, it looks as though the Diamondbacks will see Carpenter in this series, and any pitching injuries to the rotation likely won't hurt them. Rookie phenom Adam Wainwright, who was a starter throughout his minor league career, currently boasts a 0.77 ERA out of the pen, and would make a spot start if any of the Redbird regulars falter.
The Diamondbacks are riding high right now. They are currently 12-9 in their division. Orlando Hudson is the only regular not hitting as well as he ought to be. Despite some poor results lately from Orlando Hernandez, he is third in the NL in strikeouts. Brandon Webb has developed into an ace as hoped, and Juan Cruz looks to be a vast improvement over Russ Ortiz in the rotation.
While this may look like a daunting stretch of games, the Cubs and the Reds are probably playing over their heads right now. The Pirates aren't pushovers at home, but at least the Diamondbacks won't be seeing Zach Duke there. The Cardinals are just plain trouble. The D'backs went 2-5 against a very similar Cardinals team last year. But every other team in the West is going to have to face them as well, and I think that by the end of this stretch we'll still see Arizona right in the thick of the NL West race.
Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com