NL wild-card leaders square off in key series (Sep 01, 2017)

BY AP • September 1, 2017

DENVER -- The soaring Arizona Diamondbacks and stumbling Colorado Rockies, the top two teams in the National League wild-card race, begin a crucial weekend series Friday.

Arizona is riding a season-high-tying seven-game winning streak, the past three over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were swept in a series for the first time this season.

The Diamondbacks have won nine of their past 10 games, a surge that has enabled them to go from one game behind the Rockies to 3 1/2 games ahead in the race for the first wild card.

The Rockies lead Milwaukee by 2 1/2 games for the second wild card.

"I just think everything is contagious," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said Thursday after Arizona's 8-1 win over the Dodgers. "When a team is playing well, when things are moving in a very positive direction, there's a ton of energy and pitchers take it from there. I thought it was a really, really positive game for us in a lot of different areas, and we won a series and we did a good job."

In the past 10 games, Diamondbacks starters are 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA. Their relievers have a 2.82 ERA with five saves in the past eight games.

Slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .406 (13-for-32) in his past nine games with four doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and eight runs.

On Thursday, Goldschmidt became the first player in franchise history to score at least 100 runs in four seasons as he hit two doubles and finished the series against the Dodgers 5-for-11 with two homers and five RBIs.

"He's our guy," Lovullo said. "It's pretty consistent every single time we're doing something right, he's in the middle of it. He's an amazing player. He's got a great plan, a great approach. He's just locked (in) and cares about every at-bat. He never gives anything away.

"I've been saying it locally. I've been saying it nationally. MVP for me. This guy has been all everything, and he deserves some strong consideration."

Arizona's Taijuan Walker (7-7, 3.55 ERA) and Colorado's Kyle Freeland (11-8, 3.81) are the scheduled starters Friday.

Walker is 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in his past two starts, allowing one run in 11 2/3 innings. He gave up a run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings during a 2-1 win Saturday over the San Francisco Giants.

Walker is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in eight career starts against the Rockies. In three starts vs. Colorado this year, he is 1-1 with a 3.37 ERA.

Arizona is 12-10 in Walker's starts.

The Rockies are 15-9 in starts by Freeland, who is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in one career start against Arizona -- on April 28 at Chase Field, when the left-hander allowed one run in six innings.

Freeland wasn't involved in the decision Saturday at Atlanta when the Rockies won 7-6. He allowed four runs and a season- and career-high-tying 10 hits in six innings before he left with the score tied at 4.

The Rockies, who were off Thursday, went 10-15 in August, their first losing month of the season. They were 47-26 on June 20 but have since gone 25-35, which is the worst record among NL West clubs during that span.

Colorado has dropped 14 of its past 22 games, scoring three or fewer runs 15 times in that stretch and going 4-11 in those games.

The Rockies and Diamondbacks have split 12 games this season, but Arizona has won four of the past five. The teams last played July 2 when, unlike now, the wild-card scramble was not foremost.

"You don't want to be the No. 2 wild card, you want to be the No. 1," Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "That's everybody's goal. If you want to end up winning the wild card, you want to win in first. This is a great opportunity to gain ground and to put those guys behind us.

"From now on, everything gets bigger. We have a lot games in our division. It's not time to fall asleep. It's time to play good baseball."

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