The dangerous Arizona Diamondbacks slither into GABP today for a crucial 4-game series against the Reds.

Make no mistake, the opportunity to compete in the post-season is directly on the line. Yes, the Reds start today with a five-game lead over Arizona for the second wild card slot, but the remaining schedules strongly favor the Diamondbacks.

The stats geeks (Marty’s term of affliction) at Cool Standings and Baseball Prospectus tell us that the D-Backs lurk well behind the Reds in their odds to make the post-season. But thanks to the pathetic state of the NL West division, after Thursday, the only games that Arizona has against teams with winning records are seven with the apparently unbeatable Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds not only have three of their own against LA, but also have thirteen installments remaining in their blood feuds with St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

The Reds can end much of the drama surrounding the wild card race for now if they win three of four against the D-Backs. But if, instead, Arizona returns the favor, you’ll suddenly have to add ARI to your nightly scoreboard watching. A split would leave the Diamondbacks in hissing distance.

Both teams have forward momentum. The Reds just completed a successful 5-2 road trip and have won nine of their last twelve. The Diamondbacks have won eight of their last eleven, including seven of eight against contending teams. Arizona’s series victory at PNC Park against the (for now) first-place Pirates concluded yesterday with a dramatic 16-inning win.

Dusty Baker and his team better have a heightened urgency tonight when Bronson Arroyo takes the mound. Because you can bet Kirk Gibson’s D-Backs will play with appropriate resolve. Nothing quite matches the determination of a certain reptile in head-to-head combat.

The Diamondbacks’ Offense

The Diamondback offense is amazingly comparable to the Reds. They are 5th in the NL in runs scored (Reds 4th), and Arizona has virtually identical team wRC+ and OPS as the Reds.

A fair amount of the DBacks offense is on the disabled list, however. Eric Chavez (3B), Cody Ross (OF) and Miguel Montero (C) are all out of the lineup for this series.

In terms of fielding, Gerardo Parra, Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollack form an outstanding defensive outfield. Parra won a Gold Glove in 2011 and only missed last year because of playing time.

Player Bats Pos Age BB% OBP ISO wRC+ O-Swing oWAR dWAR
Gerardo Parra (L) RF 26 7.7  .331 .132 99 38.5 1.4  2.6
Adam Eaton (L) LF 24 9.2  .296 .080 63 25.7 -0.3 -0.2
Paul Goldschmidt (R) 1B 25 13.4  .391 .256 154 25.5 4.3  0.2
Aaron Hill (R) 2B 31 7.8  .367 .217 142 27.5 2.0 -0.7
Martin Prado (R) 3B 29 7.6  .335 .133 103 28.5 1.5  0.5
A.J. Pollock (R) CF 25 6.0  .297 .147 85 27.4 0.8  1.5
Wil Nieves (R) C 35 3.3  .362 .090 117 47.3 0.9 -0.5
Didi Gregorius (L) SS 23 8.0  .333 .118 93 32.2 1.4  0.2

[BB% = walk-rate – Votto 16.9, Phillips 5.8%; ISO = isolated power – Bruce .223, Izturis .036; wRC+ = weighted runs created, 100 scale – Votto 157, Cozart 69, Izturis 18; O-Swing = percentage of pitches outside the strike zone the batter swings at – Votto 20.9, Phillips 39.2. Numbers through Saturday’s games.]

Adam Eaton, who grew up in Springfield, OH and played college ball at Miami University, had the game-winning hit in yesterday’s extra-inning game. He missed the first half of the season with an elbow injury, returning on July 9. Like the Reds’ LF, Ryan Ludwick, the Diamondback’s #3 prospect is going through a “spring training” adjustment period after being dormant for so long. Baseball America says Eaton has the best arm in the Arizona organization.

Cincinnati fans will get an extended look at Paul Goldschmidt this week. Assuming that Major League Baseball and ESPN don’t conspire to change the “P” in MVP to Puig, Goldschmidt has strong credentials for National League MVP. He leads the NL in home runs and RBI and trails only JoeyMVP and the injured David Wright in weighted Runs Created. He apparently also dominates the world in big hits. The fact that he gets paid league minimum salary gives new old meaning to the idea of value.

Martin Prado mostly plays 3B for Arizona but has also started at least 15 games in LF and at 2B. Prado was part of the trade that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta. Don’t let his overall offensive stats fool you. While Prado suffered through a horrendous first half of the season (.253/.303/.365) he’s hit .379/.440/.583 since the All-Star game. Second baseman Aaron Hill has also been blazing hot (.417/.462/.683), like the Painted Desert in August.

The Starting Pitching

Of the four pitching match-ups, one is so exceptionally compelling that the MLB Network had already begun promoting it last night. Two others are less-glamorous, but pretty even and the last strongly favors the Reds. Arizona’s starting rotation is pretty eh, other than Patrick Corbin. They’re 12th in the NL in ERA (Reds 2nd) and 13th in FIP (Reds 6th).

Start Time Pitcher K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP SIERA WAR
Mon 7:10 pm Randall Delgado (R) 5.94 1.68 3.36 4.37 3.90 4.10 0.5
Bronson Arroyo (R) 5.49 1.50 3.35 3.98 3.92 4.15 1.5
Tue 7:10 pm Patrick Corbin (L) 7.71 2.31 2.48 3.12 3.42 3.57 3.5
Tony Cingrani (L) 10.38 3.22 2.60 3.52 3.32 3.20 1.5
Wed 7:10 pm Brandon McCarthy (R) 5.70 1.83 4.84 3.73 3.84 4.18 1.2
Mike Leake (R) 5.48 2.30 3.01 4.05 4.04 4.29 1.4
Thu 12:35 pm Trevor Cahill (R) 6.46 3.54 4.78  4.50 3.90 4.08  0.4
Mat Latos (R) 8.94 2.74 3.02  2.95 3.36 3.49  3.8

Randall Delgado (23) was another part of the Justin Upton trade. Delgado, who was signed by the Braves at age 16, has steadily improved. Like Bronson Arroyo, his pitching match-up tonight, Delgado is a little light in strike-outs but compensates with good control. Given the condition of their bullpen (details below) the D-Backs will hope/expect Delgado to go deep into the game. The Reds beat the Panamanian back in June, when he gave up three earned runs in five innings.

Tuesday’s chyron-grabbing game features two exciting 24-year-old pitchers, both left-handed. This has been a breakout year for Arizona’s Patrick Corbin in just his second major league season. Corbin was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and traded to Arizona for Dan Haren in 2010. He made the 2013 National League All-Star team and has a 12-3 record. While Corbin doesn’t pile up the strikeouts like his counterpart Tony Cingrani, his stats otherwise closely resemble those of another Reds pitcher, Mat Latos. Corbin beat the Reds in June, giving up only three hits and one earned run in eight innings.

Worse things could come up as the first Google prompt after your name (see: Anthony Weiner). But hit in head has to be one of the lousiest. Now, less than a year after a gruesome life-threatening injury and months battling shoulder problems, Brandon McCarthy is back toeing the pitching rubber. McCarthy is definitely an interesting guy. He credits sabermetrics with saving his career. He’s been described as the funniest player in baseball. He’s taken on the hegemonic heterosexist normativity of the Kiss Cam. And he’s got a wickedly smart Twitter following. Then again, winning a battle of wits with Mitch Williams isn’t exactly climbing Mount Everest.

In the final game of the series, Trevor Cahill (26) makes just his second start since coming off the disabled list where he’d landed due to a hip injury. Thanks to eight runs of offensive support, he struggled his way through allowing six earned runs in five innings against the Pirates on Saturday to notch his first win since May 17. Ah, you’ve gotta love the Win statistic for pitchers.

The Diamondbacks’ Bullpen

For the first half of the season, Arizona’s bullpen led the major leagues with 15 blown saves. After suffering the tribulations of J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez in the closer’s role, manager Kirk Gibson moved extreme ground-ball pitcher, Brad Ziegler, to the ninth inning. And presto! Ziegler has been a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities. With that last switch, the rest of the bullpen has stabilized into one of the better units in the NL.

For the season, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen is 4th in K/9 (Reds are 1st) and 8th in BB/9 (Reds are 12th). They are ranked 12th in FIP (Reds 10th).

Arizona’s lefty-on-lefty specialist is Joe Thatcher, who they just acquired at the trading deadline from San Diego. Thatcher sports a solid .202 batting-average-against vs. left-handed hitters. Both Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are 1-for-1 against Thatcher this season (kinda small sample size).

The good news for Reds’ fans is that the D-Backs’ bullpen was used extensively in the Pirates series, particularly in the 16-inning finale, where they covered 8 innings. It wouldn’t be surprising for Arizona to call up a pitcher from the minors to provide help this week.