As Sam Sees It

The Arizona Diamondbacks are still very much in the National League West pennant race, but there is plenty of cause for concern. The Diamondbacks are playing the worst baseball of any contender in the majors and have been since just before the All Star Game break.

The search for an effective third starting pitcher continues. (Never mind a fourth or fifth starter.) Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the aces of the staff, have certainly done their share. The awesome twosome had 32 victories between them as of Aug. 10. The rest of the staff also had 32 victories. The disparity is in the loss column. Schilling and Johnson have lost 10 times. The rest of the staff has lost 41 times.

Even more troublesome has been the lack of offense from what on paper should be a formidable line-up. The last two games at Florida were not an aberration. This team has made some very mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young candidates. Too often, the failure to advance runners and turn scoring opportunities into actual runs has come back to haunt the team.

The Dodgers and the Giants have both had recent hot streaks and made this a legitimate three-team race. The Diamondbacks have an edge in pitching, or would have if a third starter could suddenly become effective. The Giants made the best trades and really helped their chances.

The Diamondbacks were right not to panic and trade quality players like Erubrio Durazo or David Dellucci. You have to give up value to get value and there were no players on the market worth what other teams were asking. There is enough firepower there to win the pennant if another starter steps up and manager Bob Brenly puts the most productive team on the field. Knowing which will be the most productive on a given day is no easy trick.

The Dodgers seem to be getting more out of their material than anyone else right now. They have been the best-managed team in the division. Still, the Giants are probably the team to beat. Dusty Baker’s club weathered a devastatingly bad streak and still forced its way back into the race, mostly on the strength of a four-game sweep of the Diamondbacks in Phoenix.

Looking at all of the races, I see the Braves prevailing again in the NL East. (My preference is the Phillies, but the Braves are solid.) The Houston Astros will overtake the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, though the Cubbies are hanging tough. The Giants have the inside track in the NL West, though my heart is with the D-Backs.

In the American League, the New York Yankees will likely edge the Boston Red Sox in the East. The Seattle Mariners will continue to run away with the AL West. It would give me great pleasure to see Minnesota win the AL Central, but the Cleveland Indians seem more likely to do so. The Twins may well win the wild card, though they will get a real challenge from the Oakland A’s. The wild card is the only shot Oakland has.

In the National League, I do see the Diamondbacks holding together enough to get into the play-offs as a wild card. Regardless of how they get there, this team will be a threat if it makes the play-offs. After all, pitching is the most important part of the game and they have two of the best in the game in Schilling and Johnson. In a short series, that usually spells victory.

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