PHOENIX — The All-Star break — baseball’s unofficial halfway mark — is still a week away, but Zack Greinke displayed Monday what is likely to be the difference down the stretch in a wide-open NL West race.
Greinke carved up the Diamondbacks lineup with seven shutout innings in a 6-1 Dodgers win, further supporting the premise that pitching will as usual be the decisive factor in a race that currently has four teams within six games of the division lead.
“Greinke was good tonight,” D-backs manger Kirk Gibson said. “He had everything going. That’s the most dominant we’ve seen him in a while.
“He had a good two-seamer, he had a good cutter, he had a good slider, he had a good curveball and he had a good changeup. What more do you need?”
A former Cy Young winner, Greinke allowed just two hits and struck out seven. It was the second time this season Greinke has contained the D-backs: He held them to two runs on two hits on June 11, the night of a benches-clearing brawl that got players and coaches from both sides suspended.
“That slider he uses to strike us out, tonight he was locating it really well,” D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It’s unhittable when he locates it like that. … He obviously had some really good stuff tonight, and we weren’t able to get anything going.”
To boot, Greinke had three hits in the game, a career high.
“That’s why they got him — he can do it all,” Gibson said. “You’ve got to give him credit.”
Greinke, now 7-2 with a 3.91 ERA, is just the start for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw is 8-5 with an NL-best 1.89 ERA, and rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu is 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA. And the Dodgers on Saturday landed one of the best pitchers the trade market had to offer in Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who will make his debut against the D-backs on Tuesday.
With a staff like that, the surging Dodgers appear the biggest threat at the moment to the D-backs’ 3 1/2-game NL West lead, albeit with a lot of baseball left to play.
The pitching situation in Arizona, meanwhile, is murkier.
Righty Randall Delgado had a solid night Monday, holding the Dodgers to three runs while allowing 11 hits in six innings in his third straight quality start, his sixth in seven outings. The D-backs couldn’t muster any run support with Greinke cruising, but Gibson was pleased with Delgado’s performance.
“He didn’t throw the ball bad at all,” Gibson said. “They had a lot of pressure on us, they swung the bats good. He held us in there.”
Added Delgado: “I felt I was throwing the pitches I wanted, and that’s why I can’t regret about it. I threw a few bad pitches with a runner in scoring position.”
Delgado appears to be part of the D-backs’ rotation picture for the immediate future. Between his success and the uncertain statuses of Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, keeping Delgado around for at least a couple more starts makes sense.
Gibson said before Monday’s game that Cahill, who’s on the disabled list with a right hip contusion, had recently experienced discomfort in his right shoulder during a throwing session.
“We kind of backed him off, and when he started throwing again, he started feeling some stuff up in (his shoulder),” Gibson said. “He didn’t throw after that for a couple days.”
Cahill said he played catch before the game Monday and felt better than after his previous throwing session. Still, Gibson doesn’t expect Cahill back even during the first time through the rotation after the All-Star break. Nor does Gibson expect Brandon McCarthy, who is rehabbing a shoulder issue, back in that timeframe. There’s no timetable on either pitcher’s return.
That likely means Delgado and Tyler Skaggs will remain in the rotation. Both have thrown well lately, and with Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley having success, the D-backs might be able to hold position in the division as they are.
But they might also see in the likes of Greinke, Nolasco and Ryu, who starts Wednesday’s series finale for the Dodgers, that strong starting pitching top to bottom will be paramount in reaching the postseason from a division unlikely to see a team in wild-card contention.
“It’s not just this division, it’s baseball,” Goldschmidt said. “The game is won on pitching, and obviously it’s hard to come by.”
The Dodgers have the pitching, and the offense has followed. The D-backs might have the pitching, but they also might decide to dip their toes in the trade waters later this month to keep pace with their charging division rival.