Fan Confidence: Back in First

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 10: Starting pitcher Josh Collmenter #55 of the Arizona Diamondbacks talks with pitching coach Charles Nagy on the mound during the Major League Baseball game against the Houston Astros at Chase Field on August 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It's been a long season so far for the Diamondbacks, and it isn't over yet.  117 games in the books, 45 more to go.  Anything could happen between now and September 28th.  But the Diamondbacks are back in first place in the West, and it feels good.  

The team hasn't been in first this late in the season since 2008, and in some ways it feels like its the Giants who are fading, and the Diamondbacks who are taking over.  

When I wrote the last Fan Confidence article a week ago, things seemed rosy.  The D'backs had just beat the Giants in San Francisco twice in as many games, and were tied atop the division.  They could make a statement by taking the last game of the series, and the mood amongst the faithful was good.  Looking ahead at the schedules, the Diamondbacks seemed to be in good position.  Unfortunately for everyone watching, the team had to make it difficult.

We can't blame the Giants for making it difficult.  Outside of a couple games, they've almost gift-wrapped first place to the Diamondbacks over the past 2 weeks.  After winning the series in Philadelphia, the Giants have gone 3-10.  They've been outscored 61 to 30.  Yes, they've given up twice as many runs as they've scored over the past 2 weeks, at nearly 5 runs a game.  

At the same time, the Diamondbacks have been jostling to pass the Giants.  It's not that the Diamondbacks have been playing tremendously better.  Right now, it seems like just playing .500 ball is enough to win the division the rest of the way out.  During the same stretch of 13 games, the Diamondbacks went 7-6, and were outscored 67-61.  So the only thing saving the D'backs is that they can mash the ball more consistently the Giants.  

None of this should be surprising.  The Giants are built with great pitching, good enough defense, and just the right amount of offense to win close games.  They are the 2007 Diamondbacks, glibly defying Pythagoras.  By the runs allowed and scored by the Giants, they should be a sub .500 team.  Does this mean that this recent skid is a sign for things to come?  Maybe, but I'm finding it hard to believe.  

In the same way I'm finding it hard to believe the Diamondbacks are actually competing for the West.  I keep waiting for them to fade, but it hasn't happened.  Some signs of regression, the dreaded statistical term for "moving back to an accepted, likely range of outcomes," have been rampant.  Everywhere we turn, we see things that say the wheels are about to fall off.  The only people who don't believe it are the D'backs.

Looking ahead, the Giants go on a grand tour of the Southern States.  Here's hoping they're not as successful as General Sherman.  Their opponents include the Marlins, Braves, and Astros, while the Diamondbacks get to meet the Mets, Phillies and Braves.  Two things to consider as the teams each start long road trips: 1) the Giants are only passable while wearing road greys (even .500) while the D'backs are .542, 2) the Giants have a significantly better offense on the road (having scored nearly 70 more runs while traveling) than at home.  The caveat to this little bit of trivia is that while their run differential isn't nearly as bad on the road as at home, it's still in the negative.  Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have a positive run differential on the road and more importantly have given up 30 fewer runs than at home.

In other words, the next 3 series for each team will be hard to pick apart.  On one hand, the Giants have a slightly easier schedule, but on the other hand they seem to be regressing towards their sub .500 run differential.  Meanwhile the Diamondbacks are being just a little better than .500, which is exactly what run differential predicts.  Being a little over .500 while your opponent is just under .500 means that you'll be able to open some space in the standings.  It also means that it won't be instantaneous.  Should the Diamondbacks even retain first place at the end of the next 3 series, they likely will have only picked up a game or 2 of space.  

So really the Diamondbacks needs to continue doing what they've been doing all year: keeping pace.  I'm going to let Miguel Montero sum it up: "When you're close to the race, you go out there and ride it every day."

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