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Dan Bickley

Despite ups and downs, D-backs remain underdogs worth watching

Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed hits a grand slam during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

The Diamondbacks don’t always go down well. They occasionally cause heartburn. They’re capable of delivering crushing defeats.

Last year, it was Fernando Rodney’s meltdown in Los Angeles. This year, it’s Brad Boxberger serving up meatballs in Chicago. The pain is crushing and exquisite.

“I guarantee Torey (Lovullo) got on that airplane and focused on the Padres,” said Derrick Hall, team president and CEO. “I think he enjoys playing with a bit of a chip on the shoulder. And so do the players. They enjoy being the underdog.”

The walk-off loss at Wrigley Field stings on many levels. It casts a pall over what could’ve been a great road trip. It made a hero of Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, who wrongly disrespected Steven Souza Jr. earlier in the series, telling him he needed to learn how to slide. It infuriated countless Diamondbacks fans who are now screaming for a new closer.

It was that bad. It’s that good. Are you not entertained?

The Diamondbacks have been a cornucopia of chaos in 2018. They were a first-place team for nearly two months. They became a horrible team overnight. Their hitting woes in May baffled some of the best minds in baseball, a team actually slumping in stereo.

They went from a team that seemed to be running away with the division to a team that seems to be hanging on by its fingernails. Diamondbacks fans were robbed of perspective when the team made the playoffs in its second season and won a World Series championship in Year 4. But there’s nothing easy or fair about this journey, right down to Manny Machado joining the Dodgers.

We are getting all the pain and perspective we need in one season.

“For me, I think there’s some good in the fact that we’ve been up and down as of late,” Hall said. “The fans seem more into it. When we had a big lead in the division, there was not much demand to get out and watch. It’s better for ratings and attendance when every game matters.”

It’s true. Television ratings are up 10 percent over last year’s average. The Diamondbacks are one of 11 MLB teams that rank No. 1 in their market in prime-time. Their average attendance ranks 16th in the sport, a moral victory for a team forced to sell a summertime sport in the desert.

This kind of drama is also far superior to what the NBA offers, where the playoffs are full of foregone conclusions, where the regular season is meaningless to the point of mockery.

The Diamondbacks are a different story. They are underdogs and no longer favorites. They have 58 games left, and every one of them matters. Or so we hope.

This is a great opportunity for a transient sports town like ours, a place that only grows in spurts, where bandwagon fans only commune in triumph.

They also scatter and disappear when teams go flat. They rarely bond in failure. And when the four major professional franchises in the Valley deliver only one championship in over 120 seasons combined, it’s hard to make transient fans exchange their out-of-town loyalties.

But the 2018 Diamondbacks are making us feel the losses. They know how to absorb these crushing defeats. They spiraled from a 24-11 juggernaut all the way to .500, but never went under the water line and have never owned a losing record. Their stay in third place lasted less than 24 hours, a problem quickly rectified by Zack Greinke’s recent masterpiece against the Rockies.

And now this.

“You’ll see these guys bounce back again,” Hall said.

We’ll be watching. After the debacle in Wrigley, how could you not?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier