Diamondbacks continue tough stretch vs. Braves
PHOENIX — Two down, 15 to go.
Starting with the current four-game series against NL East-leading Atlanta, the Diamondbacks are scheduled to play 17 consecutive games against division leaders — the Braves, Colorado, Houston, the Cubs and Colorado again.
Things could change, especially in the NL West, inasmuch as the Rockies have five games remaining against the second-place Dodgers — two more at Coors Field this weekend and three in Dodger Stadium from Sept. 17-19.
But if the status quo remains, the Diamondbacks will be the first team in major league history to play 17 straight against division leaders, according to STATS research. Baltimore has the record, 14 in a row in 1993. Detroit tied that in 1996.
“That’s why you play the game,” said Diamondbacks infielder Daniel Descalso, a veteran of stretch-run baseball with St. Louis and Arizona. “If you don’t think it is fun, if it is too much for you, then you probably should be doing something else. If it is not fun, go home.”
The Diamondbacks beat Atlanta 5-3 behind Paul Goldschmidt’s homer on Friday to even the series at one game apiece, and they will send right-hander Clay Buchholz (7-2, 2.05 ERA) to the mound to face Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran (9-7, 4.05) on Saturday.
“We love the challenge,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “We know what is in front of us. I’ve been telling these guys to embrace it. Go out and be your best when you are supposed to be your best, that’s what champions do. See how far that takes us.”
Atlanta remains in the driver’s seat in the NL East despite a recent rough patch. After pulling 4 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia on. Aug. 28, the Braves have won only three of 10 but remain 2 1/2 games ahead as the Phillies have scuffled.
“This team has kept it day at a time very well all year,” said Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, a top contender for the NL manager of the year award.
“We’ve been through some rough spots and always weathered them. Bad games (we) weathered them. As a group, we are going to play today, regardless of what happened yesterday. Today is the only thing we can control. They have been really resilient. We’ve had a great mindset and energy level all year long when we have been in adverse situations.”
Snitker also is not focused on manager of the year talk.
“Players make that,” he said. “When you have good players and they do well, then you get put in that conversation. I just worry about winning today.”
Buchholz, who is having a rebirth after regaining his health this season, has been Arizona’s steadiest starter the last several turns.
“What he has done for us this year, he’s been a huge boost,” said Alex Avila, who has caught four of Buchholz’s last five starts, including a 5-1 complete game in San Diego on Aug. 16.
“And you are going to need stuff like that happening over the course of the year for any team. You’re going to need contributions from unexpected places in order to get to where you want to get to.”
Buchholz is 3-1 in his last six starts and has given up only two earned runs over his last four starts, with two victories and two no-decisions. His ERA is 1.32 in that span. Buchholz is 3-0 in five home starts. Because he spent the majority of his career in the AL, he has faced the Braves only three times, going 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA.
“He has great command of all four of his pitches on most days,” Avila said. “It makes it fun to be able to call a game and catch a guy like that because you know you have four pitches to get a hitter out.”
Teheran has made quality starts in four of his last five outings, although he is 1-0 with four no-decisions in that stretch. He gave up four hits and one run in seven innings in the Braves’ 5-1 victory in his start last Saturday but was not involved in the decision.
He has limited the home run ball recently, one of the keys to his recent run. He has given up 24 homers this year, fifth-most in the league, but only two in his last five games.
Teheran gave up four hits and struck out six in 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory over the Diamondbacks on July 15, the final game before the All-Star break. He is 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA in eight career starts against Arizona, including 1-1 in four starts at Chase Field.