Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:01 p.m.
Felipe Lopez: He delivered the biggest blow on Wednesday.
The "other" guys came up big Wednesday afternoon for the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 6-2 win and series sweep over the San Diego Padres. The D-Backs' "big guys" -- Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Stephen Drew -- went 1-for-12 against Padres pitchers, so it was up to Gerardo Parra, little-used pinch-hitter Alex Romero, and light-hitting Felipe Lopez to pick up the slack in the bottom of the eighth inning. Romero's single, which came after he fouled off four straight pitches, broke a 2-2 tie, and Lopez's three-run homer (his first longball since May 11) sealed the deal for the D-Backs.
The win was Arizona's season-high fifth in a row, and it carried them out of the National League West basement, where the San Diego Padres now rightfully reside. You thought the D-Backs were woeful? No, the D-Backs are simply big-time underachievers, a talented group of players who have refused to play as a team this year. The Padres, with one bona fide major-league slugger (Adrian Gonzalez), never had any business being ahead of the Snakes in the standings, especially with stud pitcher Jake Peavy on the disabled list for the next couple of months.
Is it a coincidence that the D-Backs' modest (but significant) winning streak began on Saturday, the day after should-be All-Star Mark Reynolds called out his teammates for lack of effort and lazy play? Doubtful. The D-Backs have been scrapping and digging themselves out of holes and playing tough in five straight close games. More important, the defense has committed just three errors in those five games -- not bad considering they've been dropping balls or throwing them all over the diamond as if they were a bunch of little leaguers for most of the season. And the big blow Wednesday came from one of the supposed targets of Reynolds' rant: second baseman Lopez. He launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put this game (almost) out of reach at 6-2.
The (almost) is there because closer Chad Qualls loaded the bases with one out in the ninth before shutting down the final two Padres hitters to complete the D-Backs' first series sweep of the year. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer was pretty solid once again, giving up only two runs on four hits and three walks in seven innings. The kid also struck out nine Padres while lowering his earned-run average to 3.64. He didn't get the win because he left the game with the D-Backs trailing 2-1. Instead, Clay Zavada picked up the victory after mowing down the Padres on 14 pitches in the top of the eighth.
Scherzer's 3.64 ERA is beyond respectable. He is stepping up nicely as the D-Backs' No. 2 starter, behind ace Dan Haren, who's ERA is an amazing 2.16. Meanwhile, Doug Davis has his ERA down to an excellent 3.13. If this team can find a way to hit consistently in the second half when those three guys are pitching, they should be able to play over .500. The D-Backs must be wondering "what if" as they ponder a healthy Brandon Webb leading such a strong starting pitching staff in 2010.
Strangely, the D-Backs' five-game winning streak comes as the team's most talented hitter is really hitting the skids. All-Star Justin Upton has just one hit in his previous 28 at-bats, and his average has plummeted to a still-good .291. Is Upton simply in a slump or has the future superstar experienced a market correction of sorts in his first full season in the major leagues? D-Backs fans likely won't worry about such matters as long as the team keeps pitching, hitting, fielding -- and winning -- the way it has this week.