I hope you’re enjoying clinch night, everyone.
The Diamondbacks were already assured of at least a tie for the division crown entering tonight’s action, but they just clinched the National League West with a 3-1 win over the Giants. This is the fifth division title in their 14-year history and their first since 2007.
The Diamondbacks were down 1-0 through six innings against Matt Cain, but Chris Young tied the game with an RBI double in the bottom of the seventh and rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt put them in front with a two-run triple off Sergio Romo into the right field corner in the eighth. J.J. Putz worked around a leadoff single by Mark DeRosa for his 44th save.
Coming off a last-place 65-97 finish, the Diamondbacks are without question the most surprising team in baseball this season. Kirk Gibson should be a lock for manager of the year, but Kevin Towers’ overhaul of the backend of the bullpen can’t be overlooked. Including tonight’s win, the Diamondbacks are 82-0 when leading after eight innings. And I don’t need to remind you how awful that bullpen was last season.
All three divisions in the National League are now decided, but the Wild Card and homefield advantage between the Diamondbacks and Brewers are still up for grabs.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.