The Arizona Diamondbacks, left for dead a month ago, are now just three games out of a playoff spot after going 9-1 in their past 10 games.
A team no one is talking about, led by an MVP candidate no one knows, is quietly creeping into contention in the NL playoff race.
For much of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the epitome of mediocrity. They spent 60 straight games within two games of .500, something no team had ever done before. At the July trade deadline, they dealt away pitching ace Zack Greinke and were written off as playoff contenders this season.
The Diamondbacks, though, are now the hottest team in baseball. That run continued on Wednesday with a 4-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Chase Field, the club’s ninth win in their last 10 games and 12th in the last 16. They are now tied with the Philadelphia Phillies just three games behind the Chicago Cubs for the second NL Wild Card spot.
All four runs against the Padres came from the bat of the player who’s been having a breakout season for Arizona. Ketel Marte’s grand slam was his 30th home run of the season. The 25-year-old, in his third season with Arizona, had never hit more than 14 home runs before this year. Marte is now hitting .328, third in the NL, and is second in WAR behind only Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and ahead of more-hyped MVP candidates like Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon.
“Three hits, 30th home run. Continues to just get big hit after big hit for us and make things happen,” manager Torey Lovullo said following the game. “Thirty home runs is a big accomplishment, but I know there’s a lot more in there and he’s got a lot more season to go and he’s going to have a spectacular year if he keeps doing what he’s been doing.”
While the deal involving Greinke made the headlines on deadline day, it was another deal Arizona made that paid off on Wednesday. Zac Gallen was acquired from the Miami Marlins for a Minor Leaguer. He took the mound for Arizona on Wednesday and held the Padres hitless for 6.1 innings, finishing with seven shutout innings. The rookie right-hander hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 13 career starts, becoming only the third pitcher in NL history with such a strong start to his career. He now has a 2.25 ERA in six starts with the Diamondbacks, five of them Arizona victories.
After the game, Lovullo was full of nothing but praise for his rookie pitcher. “The thing that stood out to me was the fastball attack, the secondary stuff was landing whenever he wanted. And then once he gave up the hit it seemed like he got even better. Typically you see young pitchers give up a hit then semi-fall apart,” he said.
The factor playing most in Arizona’s favor if they hope to make the postseason is their remaining schedule. The Diamondbacks only have six of their last 22 games against teams with a winning record. The Cubs have 11 games left against teams above .500, while the Phillies have the toughest schedule of all, with 20 of their last 23 games coming against winning teams.
When they traded Greinke on July 31, Arizona was a game under .500, too far back of the Dodgers in the NL West to have a realistic chance and with five teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race. But this group of unheralded players is proving that winning in the Major Leagues takes more than just one star player.