Introducing Your First Place Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are the biggest surprise this year in the majors.

They have one of the best bullpens in baseball and their closer has 16 saves in 16 chances.

In the last 17 games their starters are 12-2 with a 2.85 ERA.

Their offense has led the league in runs in the last 3 weeks; consider that statistic after they dealt their best power hitter in the offseason.

They’ve jumped from worst to first in their division with a blazing hot May.

Nope these aren’t the Boston Red Sox that I’m talking about, it’s the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After another slow start the D’Backs have come alive by stringing together a 19-9 month, which includes a 15-2 stretch in the last 17 games featuring a 2 game sweep of the Atlanta Braves and taking 3 out of 4 from the one-time division leading Colorado Rockies.

They’ve done it with ridiculous performances from their young starting rotation. 24 year-old Daniel Hudson has a  5-1 record with a 3.22 ERA this month, 25 year-old Josh Collmenter has allowed a total of 4 earned runs in spot start duty and 26 year-old Ian Kennedy has been lights out going 5-0 in his last 8 starts and lowering his ERA from 6.88 to 3.01. When you couple that with Putz and the bullpen and the D’Backs haven’t allowed much on the scoreboard at all this month.

What has been an even bigger surprise is their performance at the plate. Even after trading big hacker Mark Reynolds to the Orioles the D’Backs are still 4thin the NL in strikeouts (although they’ve cut their average by 2 K’s a game), however they have a higher on base percentage as opposed to last season and lead the league in home runs and are third in total bases and RBI. Even with a slow May new third baseman Ryan Roberts has provided some much needed patience at the plate and is hitting .280 with a .388 OBP and is projected to hit 20+ home runs and only strikeout 81 times. Mark Reynolds would’ve had 81 by the end of this month.

Ian Kennedy and the rest of Arizona's staff have been lights out thus far.

(Funny stat: Mark Reynolds numbers in Baltimore: .198/7/24/.310/.384, Roberts’s stats in AZ as his replacement:  .288/7/22/.388/.476 and he has half of the strikeouts. Oh and the reliever that the D’Backs got for Reynolds named David Hernandez? He has a 1.85 ERA, 7 holds and a 1.40 WHIP as Putz’s setup man. That’s right Baltimore, you just got robbed. Thank you and please come again.)

With all of this youth taking charge and leading Arizona, it should have Kirk Gibson in the heat of the NL manager of the year race by season’s end. Gibson has turned around this team with a steady hand and lots of patience with his players at the plate.

Chris Young and Justin Upton still have very little discipline as you can tell by their high strikeout numbers and middle of the road averages. However, with those two and Stephen Drew in the 3, 4, 5 hole (not to mention a very stable Miguel Montero in the 6th hole) they do drive in a lot of runs. They also mash out lots of home runs as well (except Drew who only has 3) as they have 5 players with six or more including Upton who has 10.

If you’re wondering if these kids in the desert can keep this hot streak going consider their schedule. Their toughest opponents in the next month are the Cleveland Indians and they get them at home at the end of June. They play six with the Marlins and have three with Divisional rival San Francisco; the rest of their schedule is easy when you look at win percentages as they don’t play a team above third place except the Indians in the entire month of June.

What is currently a ½ game lead in the west over San Fran could be even larger as the Giants face St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Colorado all in the next month with all of those teams in early pennant races. Things are lining up nicely in Arizona as we speak.

I must admit that it was weird to look up at the standings and see Arizona on top of a division that features the defending champs, three possible Cy Young candidates and two MVP contenders. However, what Arizona is doing is just plain old impressive.

They’re pitching better than anyone else and with the heat of summer turning up, Upton, Young and the rest of their free swinging lineup should do just fine in making those leads stand up.  Something tells me that it’s going to be hotter than usual in the desert this summer.

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