The Arizona Diamondbacks are celebrating their 20th season in the league this year. 20 years doesn’t seem like all that much time, and while the Diamondbacks have often been criticized for their pallid fan base, it is somewhat understandable given how young the franchise truly is. On the other hand, the Dbacks have done well during their short tenure in the league, and are by far the most successful of the four expansion teams of the 1990s (to include the Rockies, Rays, and Marlins).
Arizona has won one wild card berth, five division titles, and one World Series Championship since 1998. Their championship year was particularly impressive. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling each had the best season of their illustrious careers, finishing with 10.4 fWAR and 9.3 fWAR, respectively. In other words, those two pitchers alone were worth 19.7 wins above replacement. To put this in perspective, in the last 20 years, the Cardinals’ entire rotation has not once put up numbers that good (the closest they came was in 2009, finishing with 18.8 fWAR).
In that 2001 season, the Diamondbacks finished the 22 games over .500, barely beating out the San Francisco Giants to win the division. Even with a 92-70 record, the team wouldn’t have made the playoffs by finishing second in the NL West, because out in the NL Central, the Cardinals and Astros finished the season tied, each with a 93-69 record. The season was interrupted and ultimately extended following the tragic events of September 11. The New York Yankees became national media darlings, and it seemed a World Series victory was both necessary and inevitable. The Diamondbacks surprised the hell out of everyone when they beat the Yankees in an exciting seven-game series, which included two extra-inning games, several come from behind victories, and an improbable, thrilling, bottom-of-the-ninth walk off win against Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.
The Diamondbacks have struggled for many years trying to establish a direction and a voice for the team. They hired Tony LaRussa as Chief Baseball Officer in 2014, and many believed he would give the franchise the guidance and leadership they seemed to be missing. LaRussa was not immediately successful, but after a five-year playoff drought, during which the team went through four different managers, the Diamondbacks made it back to the postseason in 2017. They beat the Rockies in the one-game playoff, but were promptly swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. It feels like a very stars and scrubs-esque roster, but Arizona seems to be getting the most out of their fringe players (including former Cardinal Dan Descalso, who is having a career year) – something at which LaRussa has always excelled.
The Diamondbacks sit atop the NL West heading into this series against the Cardinals. They are 10 games over .500, but just 1.5 games ahead of the Dodgers and Giants, thanks in large part to San Francisco’s three-game sweep of Arizona this past weekend. The Cardinals know a thing or two about that feeling, having been victim to the Atlanta Braves’ sweep last weekend, as well. Both teams are desperately seeking a series win.
- Monday 7/2, 8:40 pm CT: Carlos Martinez, who seemed to have finally righted the ship in his last start against Cleveland, faces off against Robbie Ray. Ray had an excellent start to the season, including beating the Cardinals in April, but has been sidelined for two months due to injury. He looked sharp in his first outing back against the Marlins last week.
- Tuesday 7/3, 8:40 pm CT: Jack Flaherty takes on Zack Greinke. Both pitchers are having very good seasons, though Greinke’s HR/9 rate is unusually high, and well above his career average. The Diamondbacks installed a humidor at Chase Field this year, but it has not seemed to have had an effect on Greinke. (Fun trivia note: Chase Field has the second-highest elevation of any major league stadium, behind Coors Field in Denver.)
- Wednesday 7/4, 9:10 pm CT: In another close pitching matchup, Miles Mikolas, the staff ace of late, will face Patrick Corbin. Corbin is having a fantastic season, boasting a career-high strikeout rate, a career-low home run rate, and a career-low ERA, FIP, and BB/9. The silver lining? His BABIP is .272, also extremely low for his career and for the league in general. When I see those numbers, all I can think is: dude is due for some regression. Perhaps Independence Day will be the game where it happens.
I tend to struggle with this series every year; the longer I live in Arizona, the more I root for the Diamondbacks. For all the ups and downs, they are typically a very fun team to watch, and that holds true for this season, as well. Still, I will be rooting for a Cardinals sweep this series (and for the Giants and Dodgers to lose all their games, too). Have a fun and safe Fourth, everyone.