End of July and Diamondbacks still in thick of things

The Arizona Diamondbacks are exceeding everyone’s expectations this season.  It’s the end of July, and the D-backs are right in the thick of playoff contention.  They had lost over 90 games in each of the last 2 seasons.  Every position player is contributing at the plate at different times, and the bullpen is much improved over last years 5.74ERA.  So far, they have a 3.98ERA through the first half of the season.  The Diamondbacks are also showing some intestinal fortitude, and battling each game until the very last out.  They may have found some help in the bullpen just prior to the trade deadline.  They also feel they have found another starter in the rotation, and perhaps even a first baseman.  The Diamondbacks are doing what they can to continue their winning ways this season.

Arizona Diamondbacks LogoAt the end of July, the Diamondbacks find themselves only two games out of first place in the National League West.  They started the month off losing a series 2 games to 1 against the Athletics in Oakland.  After that, the D-backs didn’t lose another series the entire month.  They traveled to Milwaukee and beat the Brewers 2-1 and then tied the St. Louis Cardinals 2-2 in that series.  Back home, the Diamondbacks edged the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1, tied the Milwaukee Brewers 2-2, and beat the Colorado Rockies 2-1 in that series.  Back on the road to finish the month, the Diamondbacks beat the San Diego Padres 2-1 and the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1.

The Diamondbacks record in July was 15-11, which was their third winning month in a row.  With an overall record of 59-49, the team is fast approaching their total of 65 wins for all of last year.  After going 5-13 in away games to start the season, the Diamondbacks have turned things around, and are 27-14 since then.  They are 27-22 at home, which means they actually are winning more games on the road.  For the third month in a row, the magic number for the Diamondbacks was 4.  This time, if they held their opponent to less than four runs in a game, their record was 12-1.  If their opponent scored four or more runs in a game, their record was 3-10.

Arizona Diamondbacks Willie BloomquistThe Diamondbacks offense continues to do just enough to win games, as different players seem to contribute to their success at different times.  You couldn’t have a much better month than Justin Upton did in June, batting .382, but he still hit .300 in July with 8 home runs.  Willie Bloomquist batted .316 for July, and Ryan Roberts batted much more like he did at the beginning of the year, hitting .275.  Two other players that saw their bats come alive in July were Kelly Johnson, who hit .253 with 7 doubles, and Xavier Nady, who batted .264.  Gerardo Parra continued to hit well, with a .286 average and 3 home runs, and Miguel Montero also continues to be consistent, batting .275 for July.

Arizona Diamondbacks Stephen DrewChris Young had a rough month, batting .233, after hitting .300 in June.  Sean Burroughs hit .188, and Stephen Drew was only batting .170 for the month until he fractured his right ankle on July 20th while attempting to slide into home plate.  Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, Drew is out for the remainder of this season, and it will be difficult for the team to replace him.

The team batting average is still in the lower half of the MLB, but the team ranks in the top 5 in home runs, 8th in slugging percentage, and in the top 10 in triples.  Unfortunately the Diamondbacks are also ranked 3rd in strikeouts.

At only 26 years old, Ian Kennedy continues to have the best season of his young career.  Although he didn’t fare as well in July, with a 3.98 ERA, he actually had only one bad outing and two good outings in his five total starts.  Kennedy ended up going 4-1 for the month, and is 12-3 for the year.

Although Daniel Hudson struggled in three of his five July starts, he managed to pitch a 1 run complete game gem against the Dodgers in the midst of it all.  He ended up going 1-2 for the month, with a 5.04 ERA.

Arizona Diamondbacks Pitcher Joe SaundersJoe Saunders continues to impress.  He has lowered his ERA, as well as his opponents batting average each month this season.  He ended with a 2.19 ERA for July, and also pitched a one run complete game, against the Padres.  Saunders was 4-1 in his six starts.

Josh Collmenter began July allowing 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings, and ended July allowing 5 runs in 3 2/3 innings.  In between, he started three games, pitching 21 innings and allowing only 3 runs.  He ended up going 2-2 in his five starts, with a 3.99 ERA.  His overall 3.10 ERA is still respectable, but the team needs more consistency from him.

Still looking for that fifth starter, the Diamondbacks began July using Zach Duke.  After starting two games and allowing 14 hits and 6 runs in 13 innings, he was sent back to the bullpen.  The Diamondbacks recalled Barry Enright from Triple-A Reno.  In his first outing back in the majors, he gave up 7 hits, 6 runs, and 4 home runs (3 in the first inning) in only 3 innings of work.  The next day Enright was optioned back to Triple-A Reno.  Micah Owings was given the nod as the fifth starter for the last two games of July.  Although he went 2-0, Owings did not make it to the sixth inning in either start.  He had a 3.60 ERA, and was relinquished back to the bullpen after the Diamondbacks acquired Jason Marquis from the Washington Nationals.  Marquis is expected to take over the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

Arizona Diamondbacks Pitcher David HernandezWhile closer JJ Putz was on the DL for most of July, David Hernandez did a fantastic job as the replacement closer.  He was 7 for 7 in save opportunities, and had 12 strikeouts compared to 3 walks in 11 innings.  He gave up 1 run and 2 hits, ending the month with a 0.82 ERA.  Putz was reinstated from the disabled list on July 26th, and should continue in his closing role moving forward.

July was good enough for the Diamondbacks to remain in playoff contention after going 15-11.  There were several roster changes, and a couple of last-minute trades management felt they needed to make in order to improve the pitching.  Sean Burroughs was brought back up from Triple-A Reno, after being outrighted in June.  The Diamondbacks also selected the contract of Ryan Cook from Double-A Mobile, recalled Bryan Shaw from Triple-A Reno, and selected the contracts of Cody Ransom and Collin Cowgill from Triple-A Reno.  On July 30th, the Diamondbacks acquired Jason Marquis from the Washington Nationals in hopes that he will secure the fifth starting pitcher role as I stated earlier.  The following day, they acquired reliever Brad Zielger from the Oakland Athletics in hopes that he can provide help in the bullpen.

At the end of July, the Diamondbacks found themselves in the same exact position as last month, two games behind the league leading San Francisco Giants.  If they continue to win at their current pace, their record of 59-49 through July would give them an 88-74 record for the season.  Right now, what is keeping this division race close is the Giants inability to score runs.  The Giants only had one game in July in which they scored more than six runs, and the Diamondbacks scored more than six runs on five different occasions.  Over the last 10 games in July, the Giants scored a total of 19 runs while the Diamondbacks scored 57 runs.  If this trend continues, the Diamondbacks will have a chance at the division lead, even though their pitching is obviously inferior to that of the Giants.  We will see next month if the moves and trades made by Diamondbacks management will pay off for the team.

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~ by Troy Erickson on August 4, 2011.

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