PHOENIX -- There are 49 games to go and the D-backs are where no one expected when the regular season began: on a direct course to play in the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 4, perhaps at Chase Field.The important number to look at right now is 6
PHOENIX -- There are 49 games to go and the D-backs are where no one expected when the regular season began: on a direct course to play in the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 4, perhaps at Chase Field.
The important number to look at right now is 6 1/2 games. That's the D-backs' lead over the Brewers and Cardinals in the race for the second Wild Card spot. The Rockies have the top spot by a half-game at the conclusion of play Wednesday.
That means Arizona has control of its own fate. Along with the Rockies, Twins, Rays and Brewers, the D-backs are high on the list of feel-good stories this year in the Major Leagues.
"I'm proud of what we've done here, but the whole story hasn't been told yet," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said on Wednesday night at Chase Field prior to his club losing a tough game to the Dodgers, 3-2. "The culture has changed. We've done some good things. But we're very competitive. We want to win."
For months, Arizona has been playing things day to day.
"We have to do our best today, don't worry about the end results, and see what happens tomorrow," said D-backs right fielder David Peralta, accurately describing the team's ethos and philosophy.
Now Arizona needs a laser approach that encompasses the day to day with a long-term focus on not only getting to the Wild Card Game, but also hosting it, most likely against Colorado.
If the D-backs can win that game, then they can reset for an NL Division Series, probably against the Dodgers, who they trail by a seemingly insurmountable 16 games in the NL West.
To be sure, even if none of that happens, the season has to be considered a success. Arizona lost 93 games a year ago, resulting in a wipe out of the baseball operations staff. Mike Hazen replaced Dave Stewart as general manager. Lovullo replaced Chip Hale as manager. Tony La Russa stepped aside as chief baseball officer and now is a consultant.
Nobody pegged the D-backs as contenders. Yet with 64 wins as mid-August approaches, they are just five behind last year's entire output.
The D-backs have had fun and are fun to watch, particularly at home, where they are 37-19, have the fifth-best batting average (.276) in the Major Leagues and are fourth in the NL in homers with 81.
Hazen has supplied the players, including slugger J.D. Martinez and reliever David Hernandez at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Lovullo changed the clubhouse culture, beginning on the first day of Spring Training. The guys love playing for him and have all bought in.
"This has been awesome. It's been a great ride this year," said right-hander Zack Godley, who has filled in admirably since April when Shelby Miller had to undergo Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season. "This team is a lot of fun and it's great to be a part of it."
Of course, lessons have been learned along the way.
Arizona was right there in the thick of it with Los Angeles, trailing by just 2 1/2 games as the two teams began a three-game series at Dodger Stadium on July 4. The Dodgers swept the three games, the last one ending when closer Fernando Rodney blew a three-run lead by not retiring any of the six batters he faced.
That game was the fulcrum that swung the season for both clubs.
"It was a tough loss for everybody," Lovullo recalled. "It seems like the Dodgers have gone undefeated since then. You look for kick-start moments and that kick-started them. We went in there 2 1/2 games out and the next thing I knew we were 10 1/2 games out."
The Dodgers are 25-4 since July 4. They were good before that, but have been almost unbeatable since, save for the D-backs' payback, 6-3, come-from-behind win here on Tuesday night when Jake Lamb hit a seventh-inning grand slam.
Since that pivotal July 6 game, the Dodgers have lost to only two teams -- the D-backs and Braves three times.
"There have been numerous markers in the season, but that was a big point," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "When you're talking about winning three games against a division rival vs. winning two and gaining only one game in the win column as opposed to three, that's a big difference. So that game when we got them at home in the ninth was a huge one, yeah."
All that is behind both teams. Lovullo hasn't rejected winning the division yet, but the Dodgers aren't the team he has to worry about. The three teams behind the division leader in the NL Central are.
The Cubs are barely holding on to first place by 1 1/2 games, with four teams within 3 1/2 games of the division lead. In the Wild Card race, the Brewers and Cards are 6 1/2 games back and the Pirates are 8 1/2 games out. They are the only realistic Wild Card challengers.
The good news is those clubs will knock each other around for the next seven weeks trying to win the division. But barring a total collapse by Arizona or Colorado, that quartet will have very little chance to gain ground in the Wild Card chase.
The even better news is that the D-backs still have nine games left against the Giants, six against the Padres, four against the Mets and three vs. the Marlins, four of the bottom-feeders this year in the NL.
If Arizona plays just 25-24 ball the rest of the way, that will give it 89 wins, more than enough to secure a Wild Card berth.
The D-backs need to keep their collective eye on that prize. For when the season began, who would've predicted that?
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.