With two innings to play, it looked like maybe the Arizona Diamondbacks first stay alone atop the NL West standings since late June was going to be short-lived. Facing down a 5-1 deficit at the hands of the Houston Astros that would've dropped them into a tie for first with the Giants, the Diamondback offense that's carried the team all year responded again. They rallied for two runs in the eighth, then Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-out, two-run homer to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and Chris Young walked it off with a three-run homer in the bottom of the tenth. That's three straight multiple run innings, turning a 5-1 deficit into an 8-5 win.
It's August 12th. The Pirates have fallen by the wayside and the Indians seem to be slowly fading, but the Diamondbacks are still going strong. One reason they're able to do so is the offense that carried them to victory last night. Heading into Thursday's action, the D'Backs were third in the NL in runs per game, first in homers, and third in slugging percentage. With Goldschmidt up and playing first base, the D'Backs only true weak spot in their lineup is Willie Bloomquist, who's starting at short with Stephen Drew out for the season.
Their starting rotation has its problem spots (trotting out Zach Duke every fifth day, for example), but their bullpen, lead by JJ Putz and David Hernandez and Micah Owings, has been excellent and as a result, the Diamondbacks are just a little worse than the league average at allowing runs (on average they give up 4.39 runs per game, the league average is 4.21). Their team ERA (4.06) is almost dead even with their team FIP (4.05), so there's not much of a smoke-and-mirrors component to the pitching staff and they are what you see: solid, unspectacular, and good enough to keep the Diamondbacks in a playoff race.
It's hard to see the D'Backs falling apart at this point. They're the only NL West team with a positive run differential and if you consider them to be one dimensional, they're certainly no more so than their main rivals for the division in San Francisco. The Giants do have a bit of a scheduling advantage in the next couple of weeks (they have two series against the Astros, while the D'Backs have one against the Phillies), but the two teams will also meet six times in September.
All of that is simply to say that if you've been waiting for the Diamondbacks to fade away like the other flavor of the month teams and for the Giants to pull away in the NL West, you might still be waiting for quite a while.
Also last night: The Cardinals got a big win over the Brewers to keep the NL Central nominally close (four games), but the Indians couldn't close the gap on Justin Verlander and the Tigers to one game and instead end their set with Detroit four back. All of last night's scores are here.
Tonight's games: The only series of the entire weekend that could even be considered to be between two contenders is in New York, where the Rays will try to make a last stand of sorts against the Yankees. They're 8 1/2 behind the Yanks for the wild card in the American League, so they probably need a sweep to stay in the race. The above-mentioned Diamondbacks host the other New York team while the Giants go to Miami to face off with the Marlins. All of tonight's action can be found here.