The loss Sunday to Cincinnati was a minor consolation, and perhaps a slight bump in the road.
Hanging around the top of the National League West Division for most of the season, the Diamondbacks, with a compromised playing roster, have displayed the temperament and production needed for the elongated pennant drive.
They now enter an important road trip which could determine the grit and disposition of this team. The wins have come more frequently than expected and the true test of character lay ahead.
Despite dropping a 4-2 decision to the Cincinnati Reds before 30,723 Sunday afternoon in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks hang on to first place in the National League West Division, and do so without a full complement of players.
Since outfielder Adam Eaton never made it out of the gate for opening day, and second baseman Aaron Hill was effectively lost for nearly the first half of the season, the Diamondbacks continue to find ways to win and hang in the pennant race.
Sure, the baseball marathon season creeps along and there is still more than three months to play, but the D-backs appear to be in an enviable position.
“We have guys who play hard for 27 outs and play well together,” said first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. “That’s the method, play hard and see what happens.”
Even in the loss Sunday to Cincinnati, the Diamondbacks showed the tenacity and resiliency needed for a pennant race run.
After tagging Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman for the loss Saturday, the Diamondbacks put the flame thrower on the ropes again Sunday. Down 4-1 in the ninth, the D-backs bundled two hits, one run and a hit batter to bring the winning run to the plate.
When Willie Bloomquist flied to center to end the end game, the Diamondbacks, collectively, again realized they have the ability to elevate their game.
“We showed some good signs (against Cincinnati),” said manager Kirk Gibson. “We were able to get to Chapman. Look, you won’t win them all and this team does not give up. That’s a characteristic which goes a long way.”
Taking four of six on the recently-concluded home stand, the D-backs head into an Eastern trip with a three game lead over both San Francisco and Colorado and 3.5 games over San Diego.
As the season unfolds, there is a glimpse of history. The run the Diamondbacks enjoyed two years ago to the NL West Division title appear as road signs ahead. Their come-from-behind penchant to win games is more traditional than passé.
Coming into Sunday’s contest, Arizona had 21 comeback victories. That’s tied with Atlanta as most in the National League, and fourth in the majors behind Kansas City, Texas and Oakland.
As of Sunday, the D-backs also won 18 games in their last at-bat and that is far ahead of all major league teams. The closest is 12 by Cincinnati, San Francisco, Atlanta, Kansas City and Toronto.
While somewhat comfortable, the lead this early in the season means nothing to the participants.
“I don’t care about where we are right now,” Gibson said. “We want to be in first place at the end of the season. Certainly, we want to win the last game in the playoffs.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
After taking the weekend series from Cincinnati, the Diamondbacks hit the road for an important 10 game trip.
The first three contests should set the tone and temper. Opening the trip in Washington, the D-backs face the Nationals’ top three pitchers. Then, it’s on to Atlanta and engage the National League East Division-leading Braves for three.
In the opener Tuesday night, Trevor Cahill (3-8, 3.92 ERA) takes on Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.34 ERA). In the middle contest, Wade Miley (4-6, 4.70 ERA) opposes Jordan Zimmerman (10-3, 2.26), and in the series finale, Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.19) faces Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.40).
Of those on the current roster, only three players have hits off of Strasburg. Here, Eric Hinske is 1-for-5, Martin Prado is 3-for-16 (.188), and Cody Ross is 1-for-5.
“We’ll prepare like always,” said Gibson before Sunday’s game with the Reds. “We’ll have offensive meetings, defense meetings, and watch video.”
Asked if Arizona hitters will try and be patient and run the pitch count up, Gibson said that would depend on the situation.
“If these guys are throwing strikes, you can’t be that patient,” he said. “Also, this depends on the pitch count. If the count is high, we may wait on a few pitches.”
The trip finishes in Citi Field against the Mets for four. The Diamondbacks return to Chase Field Friday July 5 against the Rockies and the start of a 10 game home stand.
Second baseman Aaron Hill, out since April 15 with a broken hand, was activated after Sunday‘s game.
In just 10 games, Hill was hitting .306 (11-for-36) before hit on the left hand from a pitch by the Pirates’ James McDonald. To make room for Hill, the D-backs optioned left-handed reliever Joe Paterson back to Triple A Reno.
Closer J. J. Putz, on the DL since May 8 with a strained right shoulder, is slated to pitch in back-to-back games this coming Monday and Tuesday. Gibson said this work load is imperative to see how Putz reacts.
Infielder Eric Chavez, on the DL since May 31 with a strained right oblique, will begin a rehab period at Reno Monday, and right-hander Brandon McCarthy, on the DL since June 1 with right shoulder inflammation, will throw a bullpen session on Monday.
Currently, the Diamondbacks have six players on the disabled list, including pitcher Daniel Hudson, who recently underwent a second Tommy John surgery to restructure his right elbow.