Friday night in Cincinnati, the Arizona Diamondbacks won for the 10th time in their last 11 games (ARI 7, CIN 5). Ketel Marte clubbed a go-ahead two-run home run in the fifth inning and four relievers combined for four scoreless innings to close out the game. Closer Archie Bradley loaded the bases in the ninth before recording the final out.
The D-Backs have won four straight games and 10 of 11 -- that includes beating the Dodgers three times in four games last week -- which has moved them to within 2 1/2 games of the second wild-card spot. Here are the National League wild-card standings at the start of business Saturday:
- Washington Nationals: 78-62 (+2 GB)
- Chicago Cubs: 76-64
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 74-67 (2 1/2 GB)
- Milwaukee Brewers: 72-68 (4 GB)
- New York Mets: 72-68 (4 GB)
- Philadelphia Phillies: 72-68 (4 GB)
Prior to this 10-1 stretch the D-Backs were 4 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot with five teams ahead of them in the race. They've since jumped four of those five teams. Passing multiple teams is the hard part because chances are at least one of them is going to win each night, oftentimes more than one. Arizona was able to do it in relatively short order though.
The fact Arizona won 10 times in 11 games and only went from 4 1/2 games back of the second wild-card spot to 2 1/2 games back is a reminder that gaining ground is not easy. The D-Backs have to continue this torrid pace to have a chance at the postseason. Funny enough, the team has gone on this run after GM Mike Hazen said going all-in at the trade deadline wouldn't make sense when the likely outcome was playing in the Wild Card Game on the road.
Mike Hazen doesn't sound convinced into buying: "The belief that a .500 team is going to win the World Series, get through the wild-card format that we have and win the World Series is, I don’t think objectively that’s a position we should be staking ourselves to."— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) July 22, 2019
Playing the winner-take-all Wild Card Game can be daunting, especially when it sets up a NLDS date with the juggernaut Dodgers, but get in and you can win. The 2014 World Series featured two wild-card teams, remember. We've seen strange things happen in October. Get in however you can and take it from there. Fans and the players will appreciate it.
SportsLine gives the D-Backs a 15.5 percent chance to quality for the postseason. FanGraphs has them at 12.7 percent. Before this 10-1 run it was 6.2 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. Arizona has made real progress these last two weeks, but they still have a long way to go.
Here are two reasons to believe they can complete the comeback and qualify for the postseason.
1. They are exceptionally well-rounded
The D-Backs have the fourth best run differential in the National League (plus-81) and they join the Athletics, Astros, Dodgers, and Nationals as the only teams in baseball to rank in the top 10 in both runs scored per game and runs allowed per game. They rate very well on the bases and defensively:
- Baserunning value: 17.1 runs (first in MLB per FanGraphs)
- Defensive runs saved: 86 (second in MLB per FanGraphs)
Marte is hitting .331/.390/.598 with 31 home runs and playing like an MVP candidate. Eduardo Escobar has gone deep 33 times and catcher Carson Kelly, who was part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade package, owns a .260/.366/.524 batting line and has been one of the game's best breakout young players in 2019. Christian Walker is breaking out as well.
Arizona also has a deep roster with strong supporting veteran players like Nick Ahmed, Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, and Adam Jones. Dyson made a spectacular lunging catch to preserve the lead Friday night:
Trade deadline pickup Zac Gallen has effectively replaced Zack Greinke in the rotation, pitching to a 2.25 ERA in six starts and 32 innings. Kevin Ginkel and Yoan Lopez form a nice bridge to Bradley, and Andrew Chafin is one of the better left-on-left matchup relievers in the game. All the way around, the D-Backs are rock solid.
Even the very best teams in baseball have obvious flaws. The Dodgers have a shaky bullpen unit this year. The Yankees have a questionable rotation. The Astros are dealing with injury concerns. The D-Backs have some questions at the back of the rotation, sure, but who doesn't? Point is, Arizona does not have a glaring weakness. They're good at everything and can beat you in any number of ways.
2. Their remaining schedule is favorable
Especially compared to the other wild-card contenders. Here are the remaining opponent's winning percentages for the six teams in the National League wild-card race:
- Milwaukee Brewers: .457
- Arizona Diamondbacks: .471
- Chicago Cubs: .493
- New York Mets: .500
- Washington Nationals: .546
- Philadelphia Phillies: .550
Only the Brewers have a more favorable remaining schedule than the D-Backs, and Milwaukee is 1 1/2 games behind Arizona in the standings. The D-Backs have two games remaining in their current series with the Reds. They have six series to play after that, with four of the six at home:
- Sept. 9-12: Four games at Mets
- Sept. 13-15: Three games vs. Reds
- Sept. 16-18: Three games vs. Marlins
- Sept. 20-22: Three games at Padres
- Sept. 23-25: Three games vs. Cardinals
- Sept. 27-29: Three games vs. Padres
Put a star next to that upcoming Mets series. Those are four enormous games for both teams. Otherwise the D-Backs will play one more series with a contending team and the rest against clubs either already eliminated from postseason contention or close to it.
Of course, any team can beat any other team on any given day in this game. We know that. Still, I'd rather face a bunch of teams out of the race down the stretch in September -- out of the race and looking forward to their offseason vacations -- than a bunch of good contending clubs. Arizona has a favorable remaining schedule. It's up to them to capitalize on it to have a shot at the postseason.