Hottest two teams in the NL collide starting this Monday but sadly the goals of the season are quite different. The Dodgers are tying to catch the Giants and .500 baseball, while the Diamondbacks are simply honing their fangs as they await the conclusion of the season to find out which NL team will feel the venom of their bite.
The last time we saw the Diamondbacks was on Aug 7th, and while the Diamondbacks were the surprise of the division they were still in second place with a 62 - 52 record. Since that time the dazzling Diamondbacks have gone 23 - 10 to take a commanding lead in the NL West, leaving the Dodgers and Giants to fight for second place.
They did it with some bold moves
- Bringing up AA 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt, releasing or trading all other 1st base options
- Signed Lyle Overbay off the waiver wire to complement the right handed swinging Goldschmidt
- Traded incumbent 2nd baseman Kelly Johnson for Toronto's keystone combo of McDonald and Hill
- Added Jason Marquis to the rotation
- Traded power hitting 1st base prospect Brandon Allen to the A's for relief specialist Brad Zeigler
Not every move has worked out as Jason Marquis can attest but the production of Hill, Overbay, and Goldschmidt can't be denied. Zeigler has helped shore up the bullpen with 17 innings of work since the deal. The dynamic duo of Hudson and Kennedy continue to flourish while Saunders and Collmenter continue to do steady work, supported by a live offense.
1st Base - Goldschmidt is not wowing but he is getting the job done with a .807 OPS since he arrived. His seven home runs in 113 at bats attest to the power. Lyle Overbay was picked up off the scrapheap and has had a hand in a few key come from behind victories. He's only getting spot starts but in limited action (33 at bats) he's posted a .877 OPS.
2nd Base - Two years ago Aaron Hill hit 36 home runs and made the AL All - Star while posting a .829 OPS. He followed that up in 2010 with 26 home runs but that was all he did as his average crashed to .205. In 2011 he was even worse as he couldn't even hit home runs. You may be hard pressed to find a hitter who fell faster then Aaron Hill from 2009 to August 2011. Yet on Aug 23rd the Diamondbacks were in a fix with Stephen Drew being lost for the year so they rolled the dice and traded their starting 2nd baseman for the BlueJays 2nd baseman and SS. Since showing up as a Diamondback Aaron Hill is not only hitting again, but he's hitting better then he ever has with a TSL of .333 / .380 / .500.
SS - John McDonald is a defensive specialist and in this case the defensive metrics back up the subjective view that McDonald is one of the smoothest fielding shortstops in the game. He can't hit so he doesn't play every day. Shockingly the hitting shortstop is Willie Bloomquist, and yes that is a line I never expected to type. In Sept Bloomquist has a .885 OPS in limited at bats.
3rd - Everyone has been waiting for the bloom to fall off of Ryan Roberts but the colorful one continues to hold his own. Geoff Blum came off the DL too, taking some pressure off Roberts by facing the tough righthanders, so at the moment the Diamondbacks have a productive duo handling 3rd base.
C - Miguel Montero is just below Brian McCann in the NL pecking order. Using 250 at bats however it is neither McCann or Montero who is the best offensive catcher in the NL this year. Anyone care to guess who that might be?
RF - Justin Upton is the Diamondback candidate for MVP if you take Fangraphs WAR seriously, his WAR of 7.0 leads all NL RF by 2.7 points. That is problematic because it ranks him the best defensive RF in the NL, with Andre in 2nd place and we all know that is hoo haa. Yet offensively he can make his case. 30 home runs, 21 stolen bases, .931 OPS, 150 OPS+, all while leading his team to a route of the NL West. Justin Upton has arrived.
CF - Chris Young has seen his offense drop from his high point on July 1st, but he still provides excellent defense giving the Diamondbacks the best defensive outfield in baseball.
LF - Geraldo Parra doesn't get much attention but Fangraphs feels he's the best defensive outfielder in baseball. In fact if you check out this table you will notice that the top three defensive outfielders in the NL are Parra, Young, and Upton.
Which leads me to wonder if something is fishy in Arizona because subjectively I've never been impressed with the defensive work of Upton or Chris Young. Oh yeah, small sample size. Whatever
Bench - Since they mix and match at 3rd, SS, and LF, only Collin Cowgill and Blanco are really bench players.
Game One - Joe Saunders will take on Ted Lilly, Dodgers should be very familiar with Joe as this will be his fifth start against them this year. Below is how the current team has done, Andre has the most at bats but I've removed him.
PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Matt Kemp 12 4 1 0 1 3 2 0 .400 .500 .800 1.300 Aaron Miles 11 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 .273 .273 .273 .545 Jamey Carroll 10 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 .333 .400 .333 .733 Juan Rivera 9 4 1 0 1 1 0 1 .444 .444 .889 1.333 Tony Gwynn 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 James Loney 6 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .167 .000 .167 Rod Barajas 5 3 0 0 1 2 0 1 .600 .600 1.200 1.800 Dee Gordon 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .200 .200 .200 .400 Jerry Sands 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 Russ Mitchell 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 Trent Oeltjen 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 Eugenio Velez 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 Total 92 24 2 0 3 8 5 12 .282 .322 .412 .734
Game Two - Potential 20 game winner and very dark house Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy will take on the struggling Chad Billingsley. Don't think for a moment that Ian is all wins, he has been one of the top ten pitchers in the NL all year earning a WAR of 4.2, putting him right with Tim Lincecum.
Game Three - Daniel Hudson takes on the 2011 Cy Young award winner. Hudson and Kennedy have been near the top of the NL pitching leaderboard from the get go giving the Diamondbacks solid outings time after time.
The last time we visited David Hernandez was saving games for the injured Putz, but with Putz back Hernandez has slotted back into a setup role. Helping out Hernandez was the recently acquired Brad Zeigler, Laker refugee Bryan Shaw, professional hitter Micah Owings, and Ryan Cook, along with a plethora of others.
Not only are the Diamondbacks doing damage to the NL West but they have two of the best young pitching prospects still in AA in Tevor Bauer and Jarrod Parker. Not to mention we are going to miss the recently promoted Wade Miley and the solid Josh Collmenter. While the Braves hold the monopoly on great young arms in the East, the Diamondbacks might have two of the higher ceiling prospects themselves along with two very serviceable arms. No one may have seen the Diamondbacks coming this fast in 2011 but it is doubtful they will be going away anytime soon. I can easily count Kennedy, Hudson, Saunders, Collmenter, Miley, Bauer, and Parker for 2012. My oh My the NL West is loaded with young pitching.
The Dodgers can slow down the slithering Diamondbacks by taking two of three starting with tonights game. Lilly has done good work against the Diamondbacks, and I expect the right leaning Dodger lineup to put the hurt on Saunders. Kershaw will win his 19th on Wednesday. I expect nothing from Chad these days.