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D-backs should feel insulted, defiant as they face impending disaster

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley looks down after giving up a three-run home run to Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp, rounding the bases, in the eighth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

The Diamondbacks returned to Arizona on an airplane, not in body bags. They arrived at Chase Field bloodied and bruised but still in the thick of a pennant race.

You wouldn’t know it from popular perception. And you wouldn’t know it from their feeble performance against the Padres.

Following a fourth-consecutive loss on Monday, a once-confident contender is falling apart before our eyes. These Diamondbacks have always been a resilient bunch, but a series of punches absorbed in Los Angeles is threatening to spell the end of them and a once-promising season.

You expected an angry, defiant team to take the field after a hellish road trip, ready to unleash all their considerable frustrations. And if they needed a galvanizing moment after a heart-wrenching weekend at Dodger Stadium, they should’ve tape the first two paragraphs of a Los Angeles Times story from Sunday to the clubhouse wall:

“The race isn’t over, but it feels like it.

The snakes aren’t buried, but they seem like it.”

Every member of the Diamondbacks should’ve been insulted by the rush to judgment. And by the post-game words of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

“We have the best team, we said that from the very beginning … and we’ve done it for five years in a row?” Roberts said said. “Yeah, I like our chances.”

The weekend series in Los Angeles was easily the lowest point in a season that’s frayed the nerves, testing the fortitude and collective belief of the fan base.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. The Diamondbacks have played losing baseball since their 21-8 start, a sub-.500 record that spans four months. They are wasting their greatest blessing, a starting rotation that posted a 1.62 ERA over 44.1 innings during the recent road trip. And the team went 2-5.

The offense gets lazy, often scoring early and taking the rest of the night off. Entering Monday’s game against the Padres, Diamondbacks hitters had produced just 23 runs in the previous 10 games.

Archie Bradley still has the trademark beard, but has lost his golden touch and a big chunk of his popularity. His ineffective pitching is robbing his swagger and diminishing his voice in the clubhouse, marginalizing one of the team’s best intangible assets. Meanwhile, relief pitchers are mocking the organizational vision for a bullpen championship, where the Diamondbacks had the lead in the seventh inning or later in each of their last three road games and lost.

The 2018 season had already been compelling, exhausting and infuriating. Now, Valley fans are worse than concerned, too calloused to be heartbroken. They’re angry.

It’s not a good scene.

Communities often rally around underdogs, teams that prevail on grit and fight. They can be forgiven for bad losses and low ceilings. These Diamondbacks are a different story.

They were dominant in April. They were aggressive at the trade deadline, when majority owner Ken Kendrick signed off on a $6 million in payroll increase. They squandered a tame stretch of schedule and an opportunity to separate from the pack. And now they’re stuck with a brutal slate of games and opponents down the stretch.

During Torey Lovullo’s reign as manager, the Diamondbacks have been extremely resilient, unbowed by inexplicable failures. They often find their best when they seem to be at their worst. But frustrations are at a dangerous level, and after Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles, Steven Souza Jr. snapped at a reporter.

After Tuesday’s game against the lowly-Padres, the Diamondbacks must navigate seven games against the Rockies; four games against the Braves; three games against the Dodgers; three games against the Astros; and three against the Cubs.

The Diamondbacks are staring down an impending disaster, the specter of missing the postseason entirely. During our lean sporting history, the Valley has endured many painful moments at the hands of Los Angeles teams. Handing the Dodgers a division title in 2018 would rank among the worst, a blemish that would burn for eternity.

The Diamondbacks still have time. They have enough good players. And if they dig themselves out of this hole, beating their doubts and their weaknesses and a rigorous September schedule, they will do more than rekindle a dying love affair.

They will prove to have the sturdiest chin we’ve seen in some time. Unfortunately, the team we saw on Monday is in need of smelling salts.

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