Surprising Arizona winning big, jumps into NL wild-card race
PHOENIX (AP) — Josh Rojas was a 26th round draft pick two years ago who unexpectedly shot up through the Houston Astros‘ minor-league system, recently got traded to Arizona, and is now a key cog in the Diamondbacks’ lineup during a push to make the playoffs.
Arizona’s Torey Lovullo said it’s not uncommon for a prospect’s development to be uneven or sudden.
“Things started to click for him,” the manager said. “And it probably happened recently.”
The same could be said for the entire Diamondbacks team.
It was just a few weeks ago that Arizona was scuffling through a forgettable season. The only amazing part was just how average the Diamondbacks were for so long: They recently set a Major League Baseball record for going 60 straight games within two games — plus or minus — of the .500 mark.
But then Arizona suddenly started playing really good baseball.
The Diamondbacks have won 12 of their past 16 games, including nine of the past 10. They just finished a 6-1 week at Chase Field, winning three of four against the NL-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and three straight over San Diego.
“It’s a fun feeling, it’s a confident feeling,” Bradley said during the Dodgers series. “It’s that feeling that we’ve all had deep down inside, but it hasn’t really showed. We haven’t really put it together game by game. But you can look back at each of these wins and there’s been a little thing or a huge thing that are plays that determine games.
“We’re now making those plays.”
Arizona still has an uphill climb to the playoffs, starting Thursday three games behind the Chicago Cubs for the second NL wild-card spot.
The Diamondbacks had a day off Thursday before a pivotal seven-game road trip that includes three games against the Cincinnati Reds and four more against the New York Mets, who are also trying to stay in the playoff hunt.
If Arizona can get through the trip and still be in contention, it will have 12 of its final 15 games at home.
“We’re rolling right now, there’s no doubt about it,” Lovullo said. “We’re a very confident team and we’ve earned that.”
Arizona’s rise is surprising considering it appeared management wasn’t particularly convinced the Diamondbacks could contend at the end of July. The Diamondbacks dealt ace pitcher Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, which appeared to weaken the rotation.
But deadline additions like Rojas and pitcher Zac Gallen — along with good play by several of the holdovers — have pushed the Diamondbacks forward.
The 24-year-old Gallen, a rookie who came to Arizona from Miami, has a 2-1 record and 2.25 ERA over six starts for the Diamondbacks. He most recently threw 6 1/3 no-hit innings in seven innings of shutout ball against the Padres in a 4-1 win Wednesday.
The lineup continues to produce. Ketel Marte is on the fringe of the NL MVP discussion with a .328 average, 30 homers and 85 RBIs while providing excellent defense at multiple positions. Eduardo Escobar is having a career year with 33 homers and 110 RBIs.
The 25-year-old Rojas has helped Arizona survive the loss of David Peralta, who is out for the season after shoulder surgery. He’s hitting .271 with two homers in 59 at-bats while filling in mostly in left field.
“This has been awesome,” Rojas said. “They’ve made it clear to all the guys who have come up that they need us and that’s why we’re here.”