PHOENIX — There have been good and bad moments for the Arizona Diamondbacks on their current homestand against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, but the good moments haven’t been good enough and the bad ones have proven costly.
In April and May, the focus would’ve been on the good and how to build off it. In August, and in the middle of a pennant race, there’s no time for moral victories. Results matter more as the gap between the D-backs and the rest of the National League wild card contenders shrinks.
“We’ve gone out there and put ourselves in position to win more than two games,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said following his team’s 7-2 loss on Sunday to the Cubs, making Arizona 2-4 on the homestand. “You’re talking about one of the teams that’s pacing themselves in the National League in the L.A. Dodgers and we played them good, tough, which is fantastic. The defending World Series champions come in here, (we) play them tough. That’s fantastic, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re about doing a little bit more than that and winning games. I think our guys understand that. I think they’re all a little bit frustrated right now, but they’re going to be ready for tomorrow and the Houston Astros.”
The Astros are next for four games, two in Phoenix then two in Houston. After that Arizona heads to Minnesota to face the Twins and New York to play the Mets. The D-backs end August at home against the San Francisco Giants and Dodgers.
Despite the loss, the D-backs still hold a 4.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild card race. They’re a better team than all of those behind them. At least when they play better than they have.
“I feel like we should’ve had better execution,” Lovullo said. “It was just poor execution. If you make mistakes that’s what’s going to happen in this game.”
Lovullo was speaking of the eighth inning which put the game out of reach, highlighted by Javy Baez’s three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch from Jake Barrett. However, the thought holds true for other facets of the game. Slumps happen, but facets that shouldn’t slump are plaguing the D-backs. Their fundamentals aren’t sharp. They aren’t covering bases or turning double plays. Their at-bats are short. They aren’t executing pitches at key moments.
“I think we’re just kind of wandering and drifting through certain segments of the game that have cost us,” Lovullo said. “There are games where we’re sharp and on point and we win those games. That’s how this game gets this time of year. When you make mistakes, good teams are going to capitalize. We’re going to try to eliminate those drifting moments and stay on point. That’s really important.”
Part of the problem is this isn’t the same roster that played well early this season. Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed are injured, with Ahmed due back toward the end of August or early September. That, along with Brandon Drury’s struggles, have put key bench piece Daniel Descalso into a starting role and somewhat forced the promotion of Ketel Marte. Both have done well, but they’d be even better off the bench or creating depth. Yasmany Tomas is still out, but will provide a valuable bench bat when he returns. Robbie Ray is recovering from a line drive to the head. Randall Delgado is missing from the bullpen with an elbow injury.
Still, the D-backs are plenty capable of playing better than they’ve shown. It starts with getting better at the little things and cutting down on the mental mistakes and fundamental errors.
“The Chicago Cubs, we’re fighting for the same chunk of land basically,” Lovullo said. “Teams are winning and losing (in) pennant races. That’s awesome. Nothing better. We should embrace that and be at our very best. That’s what I want to make sure our guys do, play their very best when they’re supposed to.”
Now almost feels more about survival than playing their best. Chris Iannetta said if he could draw it up, the team would maintain its place in the standings and take off the last two weeks of the season heading into the playoffs. Paul Goldschmidt wasn’t accepting the idea that at least the team played well against the Cubs for the majority of the game. The tune is changing with the calendar and the expectations are growing. The team expects to play better, no matter who is injured. If they shore things up now it would only help later when the team is at full strength, which could fit Iannetta’s timeline of a late-season rush. If they don’t, and the rest of the teams keep winning, that rush will be needed just to get into the dance instead of creating momentum heading into the postseason.
“It’s that time of year. That’s what happens. Guys are tired and cranky and things get away from you a little bit,” Lovullo said. “That’s where we have to be mentally tough. I think this group is mentally tough. I think they’re going to be ready and focused for tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, Monday, doesn’t get any easier. Zack Greinke meets the AL-best Houston Astros, where he’ll have to start something as much as he’ll be stopping what’s been happening. The D-backs still have room for error, but errors are closing the gap.