Two of the National League's best pitchers, Dan Haren and Josh Johnson, turned in tremendous performances over the weekend at Chase Field, with Florida's Johnson shutting out the Arizona Diamondbacks through 6 2/3 innings Sunday.
The 8-1 loss meant Arizona split a four-game series with the Marlins and ended the first half of the season with a 38-51 record,18 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. The good news is, the Diamondbacks won seven of their last nine games going into the All-Star break, and, Sunday aside, began to show some offensive spark.
Arizona got its only run in the seventh inning Sunday when shortstop Stephen Drew managed a hit off reliever Brian Sanches. Drew was a bright spot for the D-Backs, going three for five on the afternoon.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson (8-2, 2.74 ERA) had great stuff against Arizona, getting three of his seven strikeouts from K-prone D-Backs slugger Mark Reynolds. Even All-Star Game-bound Justin Upton was clueless about how to hit Johnson, who had a vicious slider -- sometimes clocked at 88 miles per hour -- working all game long. Upton, batting .301, went one for four.
Johnson wound up allowing seven hits, with all but one base runner left stranded. He was charged with Arizona's single run because the guy who scored was left on base when he went to the dugout.
In fact, stranded base runners were the name of the game for Arizona. In all, there were 16.
D-Backs pitcher Doug Davis had a terrible day. He gave up five earned runs, three of them after two outs in the first inning, before he was jerked by manager A.J. Hinch in the fifth.
Florida, 46-44 and in second place in the National League East, got its runs from shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who had three hits, an RBI, and scored twice; center fielder Cody Ross, who drove in three runs; and left fielder Jeremy Hermida, who hit a two-run homer that banged off the yellow right-field foul pole
Johnson and Ramirez are headed to the 80th All-Star Game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday evening, along with D-Backs right fielder Upton and pitcher Dan Haren, who should be the starter for the National League.
Haren (2.01 ERA) is the leading contender with San Francisco Giants ace Tom Lincecum (2.33 ERA). Lincecum has a 10-2 record to Haren's 9-5, because the Giants, at 49-39 and second in the NL West, have been a much better team than the D-Backs. In several games this season, Haren pitched brilliantly but didn't get wins because of his team's lousy run production.
It was Haren who was the star Friday night in Arizona's 8-0 win over the Marlins. Pitching his third complete game of the season, Haren struck out 10 and gave up only four hits.
To help his cause, he got an infield hit of his own in the fourth inning after first baseman Chad Tracy had walked. Second baseman Felipe Lopez came up next and hit a three-run homer.
Also homering for the D-Backs in the game was catcher Miguel Montero. His second-inning, bases-empty shot was followed by Lopez's singling and Drew's tripling him home in the third and Alex Romero's tripling in Gerardo Parra in the fourth.
In Saturday night's game, it was Upton who powered Arizona to a 5-1 victory with four hits in as many plate appearances.
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The winning pitcher was Jon Garland, who claimed his first victory in two months. Talk about a pitcher plagued by terrible run production. By contrast to Garland, Haren's the luckiest hurler in baseball. Garland hadn't won in eight previous starts.
So which Diamondbacks will we see in the second half of the season? The ones who won impressively Friday and Saturday nights or the ones who blew a seven-run lead Thursday night to the Marlins and gave up 10 runs in a single inning (the cursed eighth, of course) to lose 14-7.
At least Thursday's game was exciting, something to jaw about around the watercooler the next day. Sunday's game was just plain boring if you're a D-Backs fan -- the kind of shitty performance with the bats that Garland and Haren have seen way to much of. Let's pray manager Hinch can keep his guys motivated enough to keep winning seven of 10. It would be nice to see them at least crack .500 by the end of the season and give us a little hope for the future.
First pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game is at 5 p.m. It will be televised on FOX (Channel 10).