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Arizona Diamondbacks 2, Chicago Cubs 7: Recap of unexpected optimism

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It would be easy to be entirely negative after this afternoon’s defeat. I’m not going there.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 65-52. Pace: 90-72. Change on 2016: +17.

Remember this was the week the Diamondbacks’ post-season chances would implode? After series against the unstoppable Dodgers and division-leading Cubs, they were going to find themselves out of a playoff spot by the end of play today? It didn’t happen. Indeed, our situation barely changed at all. This time last week, we were one-half game back of the Rockies for the first wild-card, and five games up on anyone else. Now, we find ourselves improved to even with the Rockies, and 412 up on the nearest team, with a week’s fewer games on the schedule. Repeat this every week the rest of the way, and we’ll have home-field advantage in the wild-card game.

Sure, it would have been nice to have done better. But no-one expected these series to be anything but tough. We end the year having evenly split the season series with the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs. We’re also the only team to have played the Dodgers more than three times this year, and outscored them. Today featured another very solid outing by Zack Godley, who also managed to do something no Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher had ever managed to do previously: strike out four batters in an inning.

He carried out that feat in the first, a dropped third strike getting away from Chris Iannetta and allowing the runner to reach. Unfortunately, that errant pitch came with a full-count and two outs, as well as two men on base [courtesy of a 19-hopper back through the middle and a walk]. As a result the runners were going on the pitch, and Godley’s rather ungraceful follow-through meant he wasn’t able to get to home-plate quickly to cover. The runner who was on second spotted that, kept motoring right around third and reached home just ahead of the tag. Godley fanned the next guy, joining only Oliver Perez (Sep 20, 2014: video) as a Diamondback with a 4-K inning.

He allowed another two-out run in the second. A one-out bloop dropped in front Gregor Blanco in center, and the runner was sacrificed over. A pitch was lined to left, and it looked as if David Peralta didn’t get the best jump, the ball instead clanking off his glove for an RBI double. But it was the last run Godley would allow. He came up one out short of a quality start, going 5.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits, with eight strikeouts. He did have some control issues, walking four as well as uncorking three wild pitches: he’s only had as many free passes twice before in his career, and never previously allowed more than two wild pitches.

Andrew Chafin tidied up the sixth inning after Godley left, then worked a clean seventh, reducing his season ERA to 2.38. That’s the best figure by any left-handed reliever (min 30 IP) in franchise history, surpassing the 2.51 mark set by Greg Swindell in 1999. After Chafin’s struggles last year (a 6.75 ERA over 32 appearances), he has returned to the form he showed in his 2015 rookie campaign, becoming a solid piece in the bullpen - and largely overlooked, going by some people’s comments that “We have two reliable relievers,” presumably meaning Hernandez and Bradley.

However, even I am unable to sustain a tone of optimism about the eighth inning. Jorge De La Rosa allowed a hit to the one batter he faced, his entrance turning the switch-hitter around to bat right-handed. De La Rosa has an OPS against righties this year, 284 points higher than lefties, so I’m not quite sure what the purpose there was. The negative impact of that split would seem to more than negate anything the hitter had shown in the minors this year. Jake Barrett entered, got a ground-out and Torey Lovullo ordered an intentional walk to Jason Heyward. Unfortunately, Barrett then allowed a three-run homer to Pedro Baez.

This probably counts as hindsight, but I’ve never been a fan of the intentional walk to face other than a pitcher. It just seems to misfire more often than it works - as we saw last night, the IBB to Paul Goldschmidt, followed by J.D. Martinez crushing one off the outfield wall. Here, it just seems like asking for trouble. This year, Baez has been the better hitter overall, even against RHP (OPS = .731 vs. .705 for Heyward). It’s a move that might have made sense in 2015, but seems questionable in late 2017. Barrett wasn’t done, allowing another homer in the eighth, and one more in the ninth - the first D-back reliever to allow three HR in a game since Jeff Bajenaru in 2006.

On offense, Jake Lamb had three hits. However, the rest of the team managed only one between them. That came in the ninth inning, Paul Goldschmidt - whom I was assured by the Cubs Twitter account would not be pitched to - was pitched to, and promptly dispatched his 28th homer of the season to left-field. Arizona’s only other run was scored without a hit in the fifth. Walks to Ketel Marte and Blanco were followed by a nice bunt from Godley, and a sacrifice fly by Peralta. That made the score 2-1, but the team’s recent issues with runners in scoring position continued, as they went 0-for-7 there.

Another big crowd: 41,760, making 123,110 for the series - apparently the most for a three-game series since 2011. It’s interesting to compare this to the Fri/Sat/Sun games against the Cubs last year, which drew a total of just 92,982. Part of the uptick might be attributed to the D-backs playing better, though a) last year’s series was in April, when confidence and interest was still high, and b) attendance at Chase this year is up overall only 1,238 per game. Applying that to this series, 3,714 of the increase is due to Arizona. We deduce the other 26,414 are bandwagoning Cubs fans, who couldn’t be bothered last year: over 20% of the crowd at Chase this weekend...

Click here for details, at Fangraphs.com
Psycho: Jake Lamb, +14.5%
Vertigo: Andrew Chafin, +11.1%
Topaz: Jake Barrett, -20.9%
Family Plot: Paul Goldschmidt, -16.3%

Present in the GDT were: AzDbackfanInDc, BigSmarty, Cumulus Choir, DORRITO, DeadManG, Diamondhacks, ElCooCooi, FishOnEmm, Gilbertsportsfan, GuruB, Jackwriter, Jim McLennan, JoeCB1991, LamparT, Makakilo, MikeMono, MrMrrbi, Oldenschoole, PaulGoldsmith, TortugaCub, Ubersnake, asteroid, coldblueAZ, hotclaws, megnetic, onedotfive, smartplays, winger49. Comment of the game to onedotfive for their response to a complaint about Carl Edwards Jr. wearing #6:

The tour of division leaders to Phoenix continues tomorrow night, as the Houston Astros come to town. 6:40pm is the first pitch, with Zack Greinke starting for Arizona.