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If you thought the Diamondbacks would clinch the postseason with a clean, five-run victory with a week left in the season, you probably have not watched much Diamondbacks baseball over the past several months.
It has been a season of high highs, low lows and persistent reminders that, amid them all, these 2023 Diamondbacks will find a way to come out on top more often than not, even if by the narrowest of margins.
On Saturday, the Diamondbacks did not come out on top. They did not, in fact, score a run. Merrill Kelly tossed seven innings of one-run ball, but the offense was shut out and has now scored just two runs in the team’s past three games. They lost, 1-0.
The game came on the heels of squandered opportunities to clinch a postseason berth with a win on Thursday in Chicago or a win in Friday’s opener against the Astros. They Diamondbacks fell short both times. As a result, they had to use both Kelly and Zac Gallen, making them unavailable for Game 1 of the Wild Card Series.
For manager Torey Lovullo, the Diamondbacks playing with their backs against the wall has grown quite familiar.
“It’s the D-back way right now,” he said prior to Saturday’s game. “This team has done it all year long the same exact way. We get it done dirty, and we’re willing to wait it out, and if it takes us up until the last day, we’re willing to do that too.”
Ultimately, it did not take up until the last day, despite the D-backs’ loss on Saturday. In the eighth ining of the game, the Cincinnati Reds lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, officially punching Arizona’s ticket to the postseason.
And much like the manner in which the Diamondbacks clinched, the road they took to be in that position in the first place was a rather bumpy one.
After dominating for much of the first half of the season, the Diamondbacks dropped 25 of 32 games from July 2 to Aug. 11. In the process, they became the first team in the modern era (since 1900) to go from 16 games over .500 to two games under in a 32-game span.
On paper, there was plenty of time to turn things around. Based on the eye test, however, it was hard to believe that they could.
Somehow, they did. From Aug. 12 to Aug. 25, they went 11-2, improving their record from 57-59 to 68-61. Their playoff odds, which had cratered all the way down to 13.4 percent, catapulted to 61.6 percent.
Then, they faced the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles for a week, both of whom have a chance to win 100 games this year. (The Orioles already have, and the Dodgers could with a win on Sunday.) Not only did the Diamondbacks drop five of six that week, but they were outscored 40-17 in the process. When that last game against the Orioles ended on Sep. 3, their playoff chances dropped to one-third with less than a month remaining in the season.
As a whole, September has been a good month, but it has had extreme highs and lows, too — moments in which the Diamondbacks looked like they might coast to an early playoff berth and moments in which they looked like a team that had no business being in the postseason at all.
After taking three of four at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs from Sep. 7-10 — a team that had four games on Arizona in the standings at the time — the Diamondbacks dropped three of four to a New York Mets team that was far out of the race. The Diamondbacks were outscored 28-10 in the series, losing 7-1 and 11-1 in the games pitched by co-aces Kelly and Zac Gallen.
Then, the D-backs came back home for a potentially season-defining, five-game homestand against the Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. The D-backs swept both of them, effectively eliminating the Giants and putting the Cubs in a precarious position with under two weeks to go. There was more still more drama to be had, however.
In this final week, after losing a three-game set to a noncontending New York Yankees club, the Diamondbacks squandered an opportunity to clinch a postseason spot in their series finale against the White Sox on Thursday. They mustered only one run on three hits against Touki Toussaint and a poor White Sox bullpen, and lost, 3-1.
The Diamondbacks had another chance to clinch with a win on Friday in their first game against the Astros. They fell short, losing 2-1 while getting just four hits from their offense.
And, yes, even on Saturday, in the game that preceded the popping of many bottles and the chanting of many names of players and coaches to cannonball into a Chase Field pool party, the Diamondbacks still lost. It was not an aesthetic way to clinch.
Of course, that does not matter now. The Diamondbacks are destined for the postseason, where results are independent of the journey teams took to get there.
“The playoffs starts at 0-0,” Gallen said. “We’re in. The pressure is off for us now. We’re the team with the least amount of pressure.”
As is often said in baseball, once a team is in, anything can happen.
“Look, you’ve got to get in,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said. “We’re in.
“We’re a dangerous team. I think we have good starting pitching. We have a good bullpen. This bullpen has been fantastic for the last six weeks. And, look, our offense has to come back around a little bit, but it will. We have talented hitters.”
Even as the Diamondbacks clinched on Saturday, they also dropped a spot in the standings. The Miami Marlins won their third straight game and now occupy the second Wild Card spot with the Diamondbacks dropping to the third.
The Diamondbacks could switch that back around with a win and a Marlins loss on Sunday, but one could argue that it would not be in their best interest to do so.
With the way the postseason bracket words, the second wild card team will get the reigning National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the Wild Card Series, while the third team will get the less experienced Milwaukee Brewers.
If the Diamondbacks do want that second spot for whatever reason, it might be hard to get it anyway. Not only would it require a Marlins loss on Sunday, but it would also require the Diamondbacks to beat the Astros in a game that is not likely to feature Arizona’s best players while still carrying significant implications for Houston. If the Astros win and the Texas Rangers lose, the Astros would win the AL West and earn a first-round bye in the process.
Ultimately, regardless of which wild card spot the Diamondbacks land and what happens once they get to the playoffs, this 2023 season will go down as a success. Two years after losing 110 games, Arizona is a playoff team, and that is remarkable.
When asked prior to Friday’s game about the importance of clinching by way a Diamondbacks win as opposed to an opponents’ loss, Christian Walker did not discriminate.
“To be honest, a berth is a berth at this point,” he said. “Not gonna be ungrateful or anything like that. Of course we want to win … but, at this point, it’s get in at all costs.”
Saturday’s game was not pretty, but, indeed, the Diamondbacks managed to do just that. The postseason starts on Tuesday.
Top photo: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
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