PHOENIX – There can be no excuse for the rhetoric coming from the Arizona Diamondbacks these days. While the organization clings to the hope and belief they are legitimate contenders for postseason play, there are many indications which point to the opposite.
At the same time, do not let players and staff be caught in this dichotomy. Responses to current play and their future are the kinds of words and expression one might expect. At best, the politically correct answers to questions and interpretation of events are expected. There could be an argument that the Diamondbacks are in denial of their position, but that’s each member of the organization would hotly deny.
Players remain confident in their abilities and field manager Torey Lovullo and Mike Hazen, the general manager, certainly will not divert from their appointed mission and positive approach.
Coming into play Friday night in Dodger Stadium, the Diamondbacks remain mathematically in contention and partly benefited when the St. Louis Cardinals were swept by the Dodgers earlier this week. With seven weeks remaining, the traffic jam for post-season play is increasingly congested.
Now in the mix, the New York Mets seem on a mission. Just a few weeks ago, N. Y, manager Mickey Calloway was on the hot seat and now, the Mets, winners of six straight and 13 of their last 14 coming into play Friday against the Nationals, leap-frogged several clubs and into serious contention.
All of this leaves the Diamondbacks in a precarious position to match the Mets in surge and stay ahead of other clubs which are bunched together. They completed their recent home stand by taking four of six games against the Nationals and Phillies, are one game above .500 at 58-57 and next face the Dodgers beginning Friday night.
The road ahead for the Diamondbacks seems fraught with danger.
Consider the two National League Wild Card teams from last season. In gaining those post-season spots, the Cubs and Rockies each surpassed 90 victories. The Cubs finished with 95 victories and the Rockies gained 91 wins. For the Diamondbacks this time to reach post-season nirvana, they have 47 games left in the current campaign. The two 2019 wild card teams will not likely reach 90 wins, but for the Diamondbacks to gain serious ground, they must go 30-17 the rest of the way. That would give them 88 wins and that may, or may not, be enough to qualify.
Given the newly-created pitching rotation and a bullpen which remains in flux, the notion of postseason play is far from certain. Plus, Lovullo has placed Archie Bradley now as the closer and his effectiveness in this role remains far from certain.
On a larger level, naming a closer has been a challenge for Hazen and Lovullo. Two years ago when the Diamondbacks qualified for the wild card, closer Fernando Rodney, despite 39 saves for that season, was unreliable in key situations. Last season, the Hazen-Lovullo regime brought in Brad Boxberger, who ended up losing his closer job during the critical stretch of August and September. This season, Greg Holland was brought in and was so ineffective, he was designed for assignment and eventually cut earlier this week.
In characterizing play going forward, Lovullo remains optimistic that his team will link victories together.
“We have not played our best baseball,” Lovullo told Fancred as late as late July. “I’m not sure when that will happen, but these guys are grinding every day. We’ll still here and have a pulse. We’re in the race and we’re proud of that. But we have to go out and earn things and have to earn things every single day. I want us to make statements and I want us to play baseball in the first inning and go out and perform. I want us to win the game and have the belief we can be competitive. We’re in the right place every single day and need to see where that takes us tomorrow.”
If the Diamondbacks retain the belief of their 2019 destiny, the next six days could be critical. That’s because they travel to Dodger Stadium for three and then three in Denver against the Rockies.
Facing the Dodgers, who just swept the Cardinals in a three-game series, including their 10th walk-off victory of the season on Wednesday, Lovullo will send Robbie Ray to the mound in the series opener Friday night. Two years ago, Ray mastered the Dodgers and that prompted Dave Roberts, the L. A. manager, to tell reporters just before the 2017 NL Division series, “we have to unlock the Robbie Ray code.”
That was exhibiting patience at the plate and that approach enabled the Dodgers to beat Ray in that NLDS game. Since, Dodger hitters demonstrated patience when facing Ray and unless Ray shows a strong command of the strike zone in his Friday start, the patience will likely induce Ray to elevate his pitch count. An elevated pitch count for Ray usually means doom and disaster.
Against the Dodgers …
On Friday, Ray (10-7, 4.03 ERA) faces right-hander Walker Buehler (10-2, 3.22). On Saturday, it’s lefty Alex Young (4-1, 2.60) against righty Kenta Maeda (7-8, 4.37). For the Sunday matinee finale, righty Mike Leake (9-8, 4.24), makes his second start for the Diamondbacks, and Roberts has yet to name his starter.
The Diamondbacks then move on for three with the Rockies in Denver before returning home to face the Giants in the start of the four-game set on August 15. The Rockies then follow in for three.