PHOENIX – If the Diamondbacks had played the rest of the league like they played the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, the NL wild card race would be a lot wilder than it is right now. It might even be a fall-back position. The series has been that lopsided.
The D-backs have pushed the Dodgers around this season, both the older and more expensive versions, and Wednesday was no different. Their 3-2 victory behind Trevor Cahill completed a sweep of a two-game mini-series at Chase Field and was their 10th victory in the last 12 games in the series. They D-backs have won 12 of the 18 meetings this season.
The runaway series tightened the wild card race significantly, as unlikely as that might have seemed after consecutive walkoff losses in Los Angeles and San Francisco 10 days ago. The D-backs have gained 2 ½ games on St. Louis in the last three days to close within four games of the second wild card.
“Things are getting interesting,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
The D-backs (71-72) still must pass Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Pitttsburgh, the Dodgers and the Cardinals for the second wild card, but they enter another off day Thursday feeling about as good about themselves as they have in some time.
They have won back-to-back one-run games for the first time since the season opening series against San Francisco, when all three victories were by one run, and will face the Giants this weekend after winning two of three in AT&T Park last week. They D-backs finished off the Dodgers with David Hernandez filling for closer J.J. Putz, out with a tightness in his back.
“It’s a lot of fun right now. We are not ready for the offseason,” said Hernandez, who had his second save in as many games.
“Everybody has to step it up a little more. You still have to make pitches, whether it is the eighth or the ninth inning.”
Hernandez rolled through Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez with 10 straight fastballs, one of which was clocked at 97 mph. He two groundouts and a strikeout, getting a called third strike on a full-count pitch that had Gonzalez questioning the umpires’ credibility. Gonzalez was called out on a breaking ball in the ninth inning Tuesday.
“Day in and day out we take pitches that are close and they are always a strike,” Gonzalez was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “Situations where you are trying to get things going are taken away from you, just because. Guys have been saying it throughout the league. The ninth inning, they (umpires) are pulling the trigger and stuff. This is all year long, every team. The worst thing about it is, if you make a big deal about it, then you get a call from the league and maybe get suspended.”
Mirroring his team, Cahill has pitched some of his best games against the Dodgers this season, and Wednesday’s was arguably his best home start of the season. He gave up four hits, two after the first inning, and did not walk a batter while retiring 20 of the last 22 he faced. He struck out six, and the closest thing he came to a walk was three three-ball counts.
Cahill is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA in five starts against the Dodgers, and four have been quality starts. The familiarity caused him to alter his pitching pattern slightly Wednesday, when threw more breaking balls, using it as a strikeout pitch in the later innings. He also had command his two fastballs and his changeup in his second walk-less start of the season -team fastballs. Cahill struck out Adrian Gonzalez on a changeup in the third and a fastball in the fifth.
“There are definitely a lot more new faces in there than the first couple of times we faced them. A good team like that, you face them 2-3 times in the span of a month or so, you kind of know their weaknesses and they know your strengths. It’s one of those kinds of chess matches. I was trying to mix it up I guess, keep them guessing,” said Cahill, who has faced the Dodgers three times since July 30.
“I was just kind of going after them. If you have four pitches you are throwing, you can mix them all in and not be as fine. If just two pitches work that day and they know it, and I know it, you are trying to be too fine with those two pitches.”
Cahill hiccupped in the first inning, when Shane Victorino singled, Matt Kemp was hit by a pinch, and Gonzalez doubled to right-center to drive them in. That was about it. The Dodgers, who had been shut out in three of their previous 11 games and were averaging a shade more than two runs a game, hit the wall.
Justin Upton drove in Paul Goldschmidt in the second and sixth innings, and Gerardo Parra the best of his infrequent start with an opposite-field single off left-hander Randy Choate to cap a two-run sixth for a 3-2 lead.
“It’s good, especially one-run games against division rivals. Sometimes those are better than blowouts, if you are able to have a one-run game coming from behind,” Cahill said.
“I think the momentum is big. We have a lot of off-days to try to regroup. We know we’re definitely not out of it. We never thought we were. We’ just going to come in here and try to win one game at a time.”