Entering play on Sept. 4, the Arizona Diamondbacks were 12.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the lead in the NL West, and 8 games back in the race for a Wild Card spot.
Entering July, the Diamondbacks led their division by 1.5 games over the Colorado Rockies, and as of July 21 still had a .5 game lead on the Dodgers. As LA stormed through every team in their path, that lead vanished.
But is there still hope for the Snakes in baseball’s final month?
First, the Diamondbacks have seven games remaining against the Dodgers, four of which are at home. In 2013 Arizona has gone 7-5 against their rival, although their last win was on June 12, before the Dodgers awoke as a powerhouse.
The Dodgers swept a three-game series in Arizona in July. Most likely the Diamondbacks would need to sweep the remaining games, which, while unlikely, is possible, especially if they can avoid Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
Arizona also has an MVP contender in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. After a 2012 that saw him hit .286/.359/.490 with 20 home runs, the 25-year old took his game up a level to .295/.399/.540 with 31 homers through the first five months of the season.
When the team traded Justin Upton over the winter many people wondered who would become the focal point of the offense. Goldschmidt has left little doubt that he is the best player on a team that, without the explosive second half of LA, would be firmly in the playoff chase despite trading sometimes superstar in Upton.
The player Arizona got in return from the Braves for Upton, Martin Prado, had a rough transition to the West Coast. On June 11 the third baseman was hitting just .244/.292/.333 with a .626 OPS. Prado signed a 4-year, $40 million contract extension after he was acquired and was playing as bad as at any point in his career. It looked like Upton, who had exploded out of the gate in April, was going to make the trade look foolish for his old club.
Since that day in June, in a loss to the Dodgers, Prado has turned things around. Hitting .333/.386/.519, Prado is playing more like the player Kevin Towers thought he traded for. After just multi-hit games through the 65-game stretch ending June 11, Prado has collected 28 multi-hit games in his 67 games since. He has 9 home runs, 20 doubles, 25 walks since his low point as opposed to 4 homers , 11 doubles, and 17 walks.
The Diamondbacks place in the standings doesn’t look good, but Prado has been a different player since the middle of June and a strong September can’t hurt the chances of a comeback.
Aaron Hill has been a player of two seasons for Arizona as well, but for a different reason: health. Hill played in just 10 games in April before injuring his hand and missing all of May and the first 24 days of June. His absence left a gaping hole at second base and kept the Diamondbacks from having their projected lineup on the field for nearly the entire first half of the season.
Since his return on June 25, Hill has done nothing but hit: .309/.377/.502. Considering that Robinson Cano’s season line stands at .305/.383/.508 and the Yankee second baseman is expected to sign a massive contract this winter, what Hill has done since his return to the lineup is nothing short of remarkable.
Playoff baseball may not be returning to Phoenix this fall, but Goldschmidt, Prado, and Hill are doing everything they can to make it happen.
If the Diamondbacks can put together an epic run, like the 2007 Rockies 21-win September, sweeping the Dodgers in the process, maybe they can find a way to change their fate. It won’t be easy, but September baseball isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
Cross posted at The Sports Post