By mid-August, the sports pages in this land are covered with football. All other sports are pushed aside and rendered secondary and superfluous.
College football is about to start, the NFL has completed two weeks of pre-season, and high schools across America are set to begin play this weekend. Golf’s Majors are finished, the U. S. Open in tennis receives minor attention, and the NHL and NBA seasons are months away.
Yet, there’s a strange phenomenon pushing this traditional coverage, at this time of the year, away from attention. For a team which was considered no better than its bleak and woeful result of a year ago, all of a sudden, the Diamondbacks have shoved all things football to the back burner.
At least, that’s the case for now. The Diamondbacks suddenly, dramatically and almost unknowingly, find themselves right in the middle of the National League West Division race. By sweeping the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend, the Diamondbacks now sit five games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers themselves were swept by the Astros over the weekend, and continue on a protracted road trip to Cincinnati.
Despite a payroll reaching $300 million, and recent, fashionable in-season moves, the Dodgers continue to struggle. Coming up empty-handed in those three losses to Houston, the Dodgers have dropped five straight and the Diamondbacks have won four straight.
With the win Sunday, the Diamondbacks move ahead of the .500 mark (62-61) for the first time since April 22. As well, Arizona has captured nine of their last 14 games and head into a seven-game home stand.
The sweep in Cincinnati was finalized by a strong effort from starter Chase Anderson. Taken back from the purgatory of the minors, Anderson turned in one of his more productive efforts of the season. Against the Reds, the native of Wichita Falls, Tex. allowed no runs, five hits and a tolerable 91 pitches for the 6.2, innings of work. In two starts against Cincinnati this season Anderson pitched 13.2 innings of scoreless baseball.
“When you have success against a team, you try to stick with what you did before,” he told The Associated Press afterward. “I definitely had confidence today.”
Anderson’s effort also caught the eye of Chip Hale, the Diamondbacks’ manager. After his last start against the Phillies at home on August 11, Anderson lasted only five innings, allowed nine hits, five runs and took a 7-6 defeat. Quickly, he was dispatched to Triple-A Reno for recovery. Yet, Anderson returned the day after he was sent down. That was because starter Jeremy Hellickson went on the DL, and a team can recall a player from the minors in less than the required 10 days due to injury.
“I just think he kept the ball down,” Hale told The Associated Press. “His stuff is good enough. I told him, ‘you were our best guy over the first couple of months. Let’s get back to that.’”
In facing perhaps their most critical series of the season, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field and take on the St Louis Cardinals in a four-game set. Possessing the best record in baseball since the start of the season, the Cardinals are coming into the desert after dropping two of three to the Padres. Plus, the Diamondbacks will miss the Cards’ top pitcher Michael Wacha in this series, who defeated San Diego on Sunday at Petco Park.
Still, the Diamondbacks get their biggest challenge of the season against the team with the best record. For Hale’s band of intrepid warriors, there appears no time like the present to stand up and be counted.
Not pitching in the majors for over two years, Arizona left-hander reliever Matt Reynolds made a successful comeback Sunday at Great American Ball Park. Coming off Tommy John surgery on Sept. 24, 2013, Reynolds missed all of last season, and became a forgotten man in any thought involving the pitching staff.
Reynolds was one of the last cuts in spring training and when reliever Keith Hessler could not get the job done as a principal left-hander reliever, Reynolds received the call late Saturday. Prior to Sunday, Reynolds last pitched in a major league game against the Giants on June 9, 2013. Before his surgery procedure nearly two years ago, Reynolds was 0-2, with two saves and a 1.98 ERA in 30 appearances in 2013.
In Cincinnati Sunday, Reynolds came in the ninth and retired the Reds in order. He needed only 15 pitches to preserve a 4-0 shutout, and struck out two of the three hitters faced.
FACING THE RED BIRDS
The series with Cardinals is the second and final set between these teams. In St. Louis on May 25-27, the Diamondbacks were swept in three games, and this series is slated for four games.
On Monday night, lefty Robbie Ray (3-9, 3.38 ERA), looking for his first victory since July 7 at Texas, takes on right-hander Lance Lynn (9-8, 2.94). Start time for this game was moved from the traditional 6:40 for Diamondbacks home, weekday night games, to 7:10 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, but blacked out in the Phoenix and St. Louis’ markets. The game can be viewed on the local television outlet for each team.
For Tuesday night, back at the 6:40 p.m. local time, look for left-hander Patrick Corbin (3-3, 4-09) to oppose left-hander Jaime Garcia (5-4, 1.79). On Wednesday night, it’s right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (11-5, 4.32) taking the hill against veteran right-hander John Lackey (10-8, 2.99). For the finale Thursday night, righty Randall Delgado (4-3, 3.27), if he stays in the rotation, opposes righty Carlos Martinez (12-6, 2.85).
Some numbers. The four Arizona starters scheduled for his series, Ray, Corbin, De La Rosa and Delgado have limited numbers against the Cardinals. In fact, Ray’s start on Monday night is his first career start against St. Louis.
Should Delgado get the ball from manager Chip Hale Thursday night, only Yadier Molina has numbers from any St. Louis hitter. Lifetime against Delgado, Molina is 3-for-9 (.333) with one home run.
Against Lynn in the opener, Paul Goldschmidt is 3-for-10 (.300), Ender Inciarte is 1-for-10 (.100) and A. J. Pollock is 4-for-14 (.286). Of all Diamondbacks hitters against Lynn, they have managed, collectively, only three extra-base hits. This includes one double each from Aaron Hill and Inciarte, and a home run off the bat of catcher Welington Castillo.
Against Garcia, Hill is 3-for-11 (.273), Goldschmidt is 0-for-5 and Pollock is 1-for-5 (.200). Against Lackey, Hill is the only Arizona hitter with any numbers. That’s because Hill faced Lackey several times in American League play. Lifetime, Hill is 6-for-27 (.222) with one double and one home run.
Oakland then follows the Cardinals into Chase Field. The A’s are here for a three game, weekend set before the Diamondbacks hit the road again to Coors Field in Denver and Wrigley Field in Chicago.