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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 10:22 PM

Everyone knows the Oakland A’s have come from off-the-radar to be at least a temporary force in the American League pennant race. There’s a team in the National League that’s making the same kind of noise right now. Could the Arizona Diamondbacks be poised to make a red-hot run in the NL West or Wildcard races and become the new flavor of the month.

Arizona and Oakland have a lot in common:

*Neither is a major media team. They basically HAVE to do amazing things just to get considered for ESPN telecasts…even when ESPN is showing games every Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday Nights!

*Neither was in playoff discussions during May or June. There is a difference in that Arizona was a popular preseason pick to win its division while Oakland was not. But, once the LA Dodgers started off on fire, nobody was talking about the D-backs any more.

*Both have been in third place in their division for weeks…with Arizona trailing San Francisco and the LA Dodgers, while Oakland trailed Texas and the LA Angels. Everyone got into a mindset that those other teams were in good shape for the playoffs with either a divisional title or a Wildcard, while Arizona and Oakland were just going to be also-rans.

We’d better not stick Arizona up with Oakland just yet. The A’s HAVE made a run to link up with the Angels in the AL West. Arizona has only positioned themselves to thanks to a recent five-game winning streak (this is being written before Arizona’s late game Wednesday vs. Colorado because of publication deadlines). And, there is legitimate reason to be skeptical of Arizona because they only look like playoff contenders when they’re hosting bad teams!

Here’s what Arizona has done in recent weeks at home against losers:

 

*June 4-6

Arizona won 2 of 3 vs. Colorado by a combined score of 16-5

 

*June 7-9

Arizona swept three games from the Oakland A’s, who were struggling at this time (long before their July firestorm). Arizona won scoreboard 21-14, which adds up to 37-19 in these two series.

 

*June 18-20

Arizona won 2 of 3 vs. Seattle by a combined score of 30-23. High scoring series. Funny how Arizona’s high scoring park can turn a three-game set into something that feels like a football game! They beat Oakland 21-14 and Seattle 30-23.

 

*June 22-24

Arizona continued the theme with a sweep of the Chicago Cubs (just before the Cubs started playing well) that ended 21-7 on the scoreboard. The D-Backs are just CRUSHING bad teams at home to this point!

 

*July 2-8

We have two series that make things a little confusing. Arizona lost three straight to San Diego just as the Padres were starting to turn the corner (you read yesterday where the Padres and Cubs both had 17-13 records over their last 30 games)…then won three of four from the Dodgers during a down spell for LAD. Remember when the Dodgers had some injuries and temporarily turned into roadkill? Arizona ended up 3-4 on this homestand, as the Padres and Dodgers were re-defining whether they were winners or losers. This brings us up to the All-Star Break by the way.

 

*July 20-22

Arizona simply ragdolled the Houston Astros like it was a 1980’s TV wresting match against a jobber. The combined scoreboard victory was 33-13. Yes, 33 runs in just three games for the D-backs!

 

*July 23-24

These are the first two games of the Colorado series that ended late Wednesday Night. Arizona was up 12-5 on the scoreboard after two games, which made it 45-18 in five games against National League patsies since the All-Star Break.

Normally, those kinds of victories are a sign of greatness. It’s not that you have to be great to beat bad teams. But, CRUSHING bad teams by scores of that magnitude for that long is normally something that only the great teams do. Good teams beat the Cubs, or the Astros, or whoever. Championship contenders CRUSH them by margins like 33-13 or 21-7. This is baseball, where most games end within tighter margin frames.

 

So, let’s take a look at the NL West standings as they looked after that last Colorado game…

NL WEST (through Wednesday Night)

San Francisco 55-42

LA Dodgers 53-43 (1.5 games back)

Arizona 49-48 (6 games back)

Whoa…Arizona has had to crush the patsies just to barely squeak past the .500 mark! They’re still 4.5 games behind the Dodgers…who are healthy again after enduring their slump (and who are making trades to improve their chances of reaching the 2012 postseason). It’s easy to get excited about Arizona when they’re running up the score on lesser teams. Something’s obviously going wrong when they step up in class. The D-backs won’t reach the postseason unless they learn how to step up in class.

The upcoming schedule will give them a chance to stay hot through the weekend, and then make a statement moving forward about whether or not they’ll be the next Oakland.

Tonight-Sunday: home vs. NY Mets

Monday-Wednesday: at LA Dodgers

Friday-Sunday: at Philadelphia

Monday-Thursday: at Pittsburgh

The Mets have fallen apart since the All-Star Break. Their ace pitchers fell back to earth. The bullpen is still horrible. And, the offense can’t score enough to make up the difference. The Arizona we’ve seen in recent weeks may leave no prisoners. In fact, if they DON’T dominate the Mets, you can probably write them off as a serious playoff threat.

The road series against the Dodgers is obviously huge because that’s the team Arizona is chasing as they try to pass the cars in front of the one by one. A road sweep…and the D-backs are in business. A poor trip though, and they fall further off a Wildcard race where there’s no margin for error.

Seven games in Pennsylvania will provide a nice test…particularly the four-game set against a Pittsburgh team that’s fighting for its lives over in the NL Central. Could that be a “showcase series” for us here in the NOTEBOOK in a couple of weeks? Wouldn’t that be something?!

First things first…Thursday Night’s Mets/Diamondbacks game is one of many JIM HURLEY is looking at closely in this split session.

 

EARLY THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS

LA Dodgers at St. Louis

Tampa Bay at Baltimore

Oakland at Toronto

 

LATE THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS

NY Mets at Arizona

Detroit at Cleveland

Be sure you take care of business early here at the website so you get full value. Game day selections always go up a few hours before first pitch. If you have any questions about NETWORK baseball, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about early-bird football when you call. The NFL Preseason starts a week from Sunday Night with Arizona vs. New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH.

Back with you Friday for showcase series coverage of either the LA Dodgers at the San Francisco Giants or the Boston Red Sox at the New York Yankees. Alex Rodriguez suffered a broken hand the day after the Yanks acquired Ichiro…which brings significant context to that Red Sox/Yankees series. But, Boston may be too far back in the standings to take advantage of any Yankees’ misfortune. Maybe we’ll just preview them BOTH! We can tell you for sure that our next college football conference previews will run this weekend. We’ll study the Mountain West with Boise State on Saturday, and the Independents with Notre Dame, BYU, Navy, and Army on Sunday.

Make sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s really going on in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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