There’s still time between now and Sept. 28 for the most surprising first-place team in baseball to give way in the NL West to the reigning World Series champion. The Arizona Diamondbacks, though, are trying their darndest not to let that happen.
Arizona’s trying to avoid a similar collapse to that of the otherwise overachieving 2010 San Diego Padres, who lost 10 games in a row starting Aug. 26. Eventually, San Francisco won the division by two games on it way to the city’s first World Series championship parade.
The series with the Nationals was a good step for the Diamondbacks as the pennant race heads into its final month. After a win Tuesday night, Arizona Manager Kirk Gibson said, “The season’s long. We’re just trying to get rejuvenated and get our spirit back.”
That night’s outing by Ian Kennedy and subsequent wins from Daniel Hudson and rookie Wade Miley have the Diamondbacks feeling good again. Actually, Kennedy said they never changed their approach even during the six-game slide in which they scored just seven runs.
“The whole team has a lot of energy,” said Kennedy, a 16-game winner who came over from the New York Yankees in a three-team trade in December 2009 that sent Detroit’s Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. “You can’t be down. You can’t let it wear on you.”
Kennedy, a first-round pick out of Southern California in 2006, has company in a clubhouse that likes to keep things light. When asked by an Arizona reporter about whether closer J.J. Putz and others will help the Diamondbacks stay in the race, the skipper Gibson said, “What are you going to do? I don’t know. We’ll tell you at the end of the season. Things don’t come easy in this game.”
They hadn’t come easy for Arizona, which has been without shortstop Stephen Drew because of a season-ending ankle injury he suffered last month. Tuesday, the club dealt second baseman Kelly Johnson, who hit .284 with 26 home runs last season but had slumped to .209 with 18 homers this year, for middle infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald. That trade went down hours before the 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit Mineral, Va., and shook much of the East Coast.
An unfazed Arizona team was stuck in traffic on the way from its hotel and couldn’t take batting practice. All the Diamondbacks did was win the next three games, 2-0, 4-2 and 8-1. Meanwhile, star right fielder Justin Upton was back in the lineup despite leaving Tuesday’s game after he was hit by a pitch for the fifth time this season against the Nationals.
It’s just the kind of resiliency Gibson said his team have had all season, Hired last season as an interim manager, the 1988 World Series hero likes how his team goes about its business.
“Again, I don’t feel like they’re not preparing,” Gibson said. “I don’t feel like they’re not taking care of themselves. The effort and the fundamentalism, it’s all there.”
Gibson also joked that his players would have to follow the same schedule as Tuesday, right down to leaving their hotel late after an earthquake. With this group, however, it may be less about routine and more about an ability to shrug off a challenge.