Diamondbacks Would Love to do Huge Favor for Phillies
For the 2011 Phillies, the first three-quarters of the season has been a steady march toward a fifth straight NL East crown, not to mention the league’s best record.
Their incredible consistency has made the regular season feel like a six-month standby for a city that now measures its team’s success only by playoff results.
With the trade deadline surpassed and the division seemingly in the bag, it appears there will be little drama provided (unexpected injuries aside) by the last 43 games of the season.
But, let’s also remember that most of the divisional races in Major League Baseball are more hotly contested than the runaway that the Phillies have made of the NL East. And one of those division races could go a long way in determining whether or not the Phillies win their second World Series in four years.
That division is the NL West, and at the moment it is being led by the relatively anonymous Arizona Diamondbacks. These are the same Diamondbacks that finished the 2010 season three losses shy of 100. But the 2011 season has been a different story for Kirk Gibson’s club, and Phillies fans looking for a second-favorite team may want to start rooting for this bunch.
You see, if the season ended today, the Diamondbacks would be headed to the playoffs, and they would be doing so at the expense of the team that the Phillies would love to avoid in a playoff series: The San Francisco Giants. The Giants currently trail the Diamondbacks by two games, but more importantly, they are four games behind the Wild Card-leading Atlanta Braves.
In short, if the Braves continue to play well, the Giants only path to the playoffs would be via an NL West title. So, the Diamondbacks could do the Phillies a huge favor by eliminating the team that seemingly poses the greatest threat to another National League Pennant.
It’s true that the Phillies gained a measure of confidence against the Giants in their recent three-games-to-one series win at AT&T Park. However, two of the wins in that series came against a woeful Madison Bumgarner and a very rusty Jonathan Sanchez. And in the Phillies only other series against San Francisco this season (just a week earlier), they dropped two out of three at Citizens Bank Park and were utterly dominated by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
That sort of dominance is the main reason we should all be scoreboard watching and hoping for the Diamondbacks to bounce the defending World Champs. And for those who think there is shame in hoping for a dangerous team to be eliminated by somebody else, remember that the talented Braves would still provide ample challenge to the Phillies. Then, consider the Phillies recent history against the Giants’ top pitchers.
First, there is Tim Lincecum. “The Freak” seems to go through an annual lull in performance somewhere in the middle of the season before reestablishing his dominance late in the season. The Phillies have run through that buzzsaw quite a bit over the last few years. In his last nine starts against the Phillies, Lincecum has a 1.66 ERA and an opponent batting average of only .203. That is three-and-a-half years of frustration for Philly hitters and is an awfully scary thought when one considers that Lincecum would toe the rubber for two games in any playoff series against the Giants.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lincecum is not the only Giants pitcher that seems to have their number. Matt Cain would also take the mound twice in a playoff series, and in his last four starts against the Phillies, he has allowed only three earned runs in 28 innings for an ERA of .096. He shut down the Phillies for seven innings of his NLCS start in 2010, and has held Philly hitters to a .160 batting average over the last two seasons.
It should be noted that the Giants are a bit of a mess at the moment. Their offense has not been sparked at all by the addition of Carlos Beltran, and they are 29th in Major League Baseball in runs scored.
But, the same criticisms were levied against the Giants last summer. This was before they rode their dominant pitching and timely hitting to a World Series title.
The dominant pitching is still there, and would pose a major threat to the Phillies in a playoff series.
This week, the Giants will head to Atlanta for a four game series against the Braves. The Phillies, meanwhile, will play host to the division-leading Diamondbacks for three games beginning tomorrow.
The Braves could help keep the Giants in second place for a few more days as their regular season road shortens. Hopefully, the Phillies will handle the Diamondbacks for yet another series win.
And after Thursday night, we can all begin calling ourselves D-backs fans. It’s not that we don’t all think the Phillies are better than the Giants this season. But if someone wants to vote them off the island before October even arrives, we wouldn’t complain.
Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene. He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com. You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section.
Matt can be contacted at email@example.com
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Lincecum photo: Tony Gutierrez; AP