There is not a more important 20 games for the D-backs than between now and the All-Star break. The fulcrum of the season starts now.
The starting pitching hasn't won a game in the last 16. Trevor Cahill hasn't won a game since mid-May. The bullpen is second in baseball with the most blown saves. There were times that it looked like the D-backs could field a better team starting their disabled list instead of their lineup card. Everything has gone wrong for the D-backs and they're a first place team. It appears things are about to change.
J.J. Putz could be back by the end of the week. Aaron Hill is back in the starting lineup. Ian Kennedy's suspension ends this weekend. Eric Chavez will be back soon. Adam Eaton will finally play after the break. The D-backs enter Washington with a three-game lead and have never been at full strength.
The San Francisco Giants just received a huge blow finding out Angel Pagan is out for 12 weeks. The Los Angeles Dodgers still haven't gelled and will be firing their manager at some point this year. The Cincinnati Reds are pulling away (six-game lead) for the Wild Card. This matters for the Diamondbacks because it means the Giants and Dodgers won't be buyers at the trade deadline in an attempt to win the Wild Card. It's like poker. If you need any spade and you win the hand, you can be aggressive with your bet because you have plenty of "outs." If the Dodgers and Giants are out of the Wild Card chase, they're less likely to be as aggressive at the trade deadline if they only have one shot at the playoffs instead of three.
Obviously, the season doesn't end on July 31. What makes these 20 games for Arizona so key is this year's odd schedule. Most teams make future decisions at the All-Star break. The New York Mets earned the All-Star Game and were granted their odd request to hold the game a week later. Because of that, teams only have a week and a half to work on deals after the break. The next 20 games for Arizona could determine the level of aggression -- if any -- L.A. and San Fran take into the trade deadline.
Arizona is the best "team" in the division right now ("team" is in quotes due to the fact that L.A. is more talented and S.F. should be pitching better, but collectively Arizona is constructed better). A dramatic move at the trade deadline could change that. Remember 2008? The Diamondbacks exploded out of the gate. After the first five weeks, Arizona fell into a slump. The positive thinking immediately told people to calm down because the D-backs were still in first place. I was the only one screaming that the losses were going to allow other teams to make moves the D-backs can't match. The Dodgers brought in Manny and ran over the D-backs.
These next 20 games will be tough but they could determine if Arizona goes to the playoffs. It looks really promising.