The Diamondbacks (68-53) are entering a very difficult stretch in their schedule, traveling east to play the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals for ten essential games.
Between the Phillies and Braves, the two teams are 56 games over .500 and would both be in the playoffs if the season ended today. With a month and a half to play, the D-backs must take it one game at a time.
The Phillies are experienced, deep and talented. Their starting rotation is unquestionably the best in baseball, with four aces dotting the landscape (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt). Vance Worley, a rookie, has also been very impressive for Philadelphia in 2011.
The D-backs will face Halladay, Lee and Worley over the next three days, countering with Josh Collmenter, Joe Saunders and Ian Kennedy.
What makes the Phillies such a complete baseball team? The huge payroll doesn't hurt, but the team has a winning attitude. Since winning the World Series in 2008, the fans have come out to the park in droves. Support of the team is at an all-time high, giving the owners the ability (and incentive) to invest heavily in the product.
While struggling owners are trading away their viable chips for prospects (New York Mets, Houston Astros), the Phillies can take assume large contracts without much difficulty.
Outside of third base, every position on the field is well-covered by stars. Newly acquired Hunter Pence has fit right in, slotted into the fifth spot in the batting order to protect Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
The Phillies didn't just buy their way to national prominence, however: many of their star players came up through the system, much like the New York Yankees of the 1990s. Utley, Howard, Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are just a few of the many minor leaguers that have made a big impact on Philadelphia. They take care of their own, and they are able to retain them.
Fans of other teams have nothing but disdain for the way the Phillies have loaded up on talent in the past few seasons by trading for Halladay, Oswalt, Lee (and then signing him as a free agent) and Pence. On the other hand, many admire their passion for winning and the wherewithal they have to get the job done.
Roy Halladay is the pitcher that the Diamondbacks will face tomorrow night. Halladay is having a Cy Young-caliber season, with 15 wins, six complete games, and an ERA of 2.51. Halladay continues to strike out the opposition at an alarming pace, already earning 163 K's on the season.
On Wednesday, it doesn't get any easier: Cliff Lee and his 177 strikeouts will face off against the D-backs lineup. This 1-2 punch of righty-lefty is difficult to manage against, and Kirk Gibson has his work cut out for him.
Thursday, Vance Worley toes the rubber against Ian Kennedy. From a pitching standpoint, this is the only game that Arizona is favored in, but it's not really close: Kennedy has pitched extremely well in 2011, while Worley is still learning the ropes in the big leagues (though an 8-1 record and a sub-3 ERA is nothing to scoff at, either).
With the way Arizona played against Houston this past week, you wouldn't expect much on this road trip. Time and time again, however, the Diamondbacks have proven that playing with passion and grit can push you over the top.