Arizona Diamondbacks (6/30/17)

As of this post, the Diamondbacks remain in serious contention after posting sub .500 seasons in each of the past three seasons. Granted, anything might happen in the games remaining, but the club looks poised to record its first winning campaign since 2011.

Much of this success can be awarded to an improved starting rotation and a stalwart offense. Robbie Ray has been nothing short of stellar this season, proving he belongs in the Cy Young conversation come award season. In 15 games, the 25-year-old has logged 119 strikeouts, and an 8-3 record while posting a 2.87 ERA over 94 innings.

It wasn’t long ago Arizona was being heralded as World Series contenders, largely in part to the massive, 6-yr/$206.5 million dollar contract which lured starting pitcher Zack Greinke from Los Angeles. The year was 2015, and the Diamondbacks followed their courtship of Greinke by making possibly one of the worst trades in franchise history, sending recently drafted Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick, to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for tough-luck pitcher Shelby Miller. Miller’s first season in Arizona became the definition of disaster, ending in a demotion to Triple-A.

Greinke on the other hand did manage to post a 13-7 record and log 134 strikeouts, but his ERA inflated to 4.37, marking the first time since 2012 he had finished with an ERA above 2.75. By September, Greinke’s name was being floated around the rumor mill as a possible contract that should be flipped to kick-start an impending rebuild.

A year later Greinke not only remains a Diamondback, he has regained much of his form. Through 16 games this season, Greinke is 9-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 116 strikeouts. Considering his home ballpark is not known to be friendly to most pitchers, his success along with others in the rotation truly is something marvelous. Of the 1456 home runs hit in the National League through June 29, Chase Field has yielded 112, tied with Dodger Stadium for third-place behind Great American Ballpark (CIN) and Miller Park (MIL).

While pitching has been steady, the Diamondbacks’ offense has been every bit of what has been expected. A healthy Paul Goldschmidt can never be undervalued. The first baseman has had another incredible season to this point, posting a .323 average with 66 RBIs and 19 home runs. If that weren’t proof-in-the-punch enough, Goldschmidt also has 13 stolen bases in 79 games and is on pace to play in his third consecutive 150-plus game season, which is great news if you are hoping for a Diamondback appearance come October.

Across the diamond, 26-year-old Jake Lamb has continued to build upon his breakout 2016 campaign, batting .286 with 18 home runs and a .931 OPS in 76 games. With 64 RBIs, Lamb is on pace to obliterate his career high of 91, a mark he set last season. In his three and a half seasons with Arizona, Lamb has continued to improve and exceed expectations. At age 26, Lamb has shown he can produce at the major-league level offensively, but leaves more to be desired in the field. While his 8 errors put him in a four-person tie for fifth most errors by a third baseman, Lamb’s proximity to the top of that statistic is concerning considering he was 3 errors shy of headlining the category a year ago with 20.

The Diamondbacks look ahead to the weekend, hoping to put back-to-back losses against the St. Louis Cardinals behind them. They are set for a three game series against a Colorado Rockies team that has lost eight straight. A look at the standings even a week ago would have made this a must-win series for the Diamondbacks, but a 3.5 game gap between the clubs for second place affords Arizona some room to wiggle.

Despite the distance between them, this series is a perfect opportunity to whittle the race in the National League West down to a two-team affair. While a 6.5 game gap certainly wouldn’t sink the Rockies ship, it would certainly make a statement moving forward. More importantly, the Diamondbacks look to gain ground on the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers currently maintain a 2.5 game lead, a deficit the Diamondbacks are hoping the San Diego Padres can help them cut into.

Tonight Arizona sends Robbie Ray (8-3, 2.87 ERA) up against Jon Gray (0-0, 4.87 ERA), followed Saturday with Zack Greinke (9-4, 3.08 ERA) facing Tyler Chatwood (6-8, 4.32 ERA), ending with Sunday’s finale of Taijuan Walker (6-3, 3.50 ERA) vs. German Marquez (5-4, 4.38 ERA).