PHOENIX – “Grind.”
That was to be the single gear of the 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks. And, to the dismay of the many critics of the approach, they’ve kind of done just that.
Sure, as was often said in the wake of the Justin Upton trade, winning has a prerequisite: talent. There are no shortcuts or, in the Diamondbacks’ case, scenic routes. See: this season’s $216 million Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the trait that is perhaps most identifiable with a “grinding” team — finding a way to win close games — is something the Diamondbacks have practically owned in 2013.
They lead baseball in extra innings wins with 15. The Atlanta Braves are the only other team with double-digits extra innings win, with 11. The Diamondbacks have lost just five of their National League-leading 20 extras contests.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks also hold the major league lead in one-run victories. They are 28-17 in such games.
Some would offer that such success in late and close games is indicative of something deeper.
And the Diamondbacks’ own manager is one.
“It’s been a good sign of how we handled it,” Kirk Gibson said before Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
“It’s one thing that tells you that somehow, some way we’re going to figure something out here and get in (to the postseason).”
It’s the resolve to win even the most trying of games that has made Gibson a believer in his team. That kind of determination, he’d go on to say, has been a common denominator among playoff teams in past years.
“The team doesn’t bellyache about what’s not going good at all. They focus on the task at hand.”
Though they stand 6 games back from the Cincinnati Reds in the race for the second NL Wild Card berth, and 9.5 back from the Dodgers in the NL West, Gibson has told his team not to be discouraged. And thus far, they haven’t, despite a multitude of setbacks, with significant injuries to key position players like Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero, Cody Ross, Adam Eaton and Eric Chavez along with injuries to pitchers J.J. Putz, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Daniel Hudson and Matt Reynolds.
“You can’t let yourself get discouraged, but it’s easy to do,” said Gibson. “You can look at it and say, ‘Oh, we lost and these guys are this many up on us.'”
No matter how bleak the situation, though, Gibson believes there’s a way, largely due to personal experience.
“I’ve been on some teams before where we were 3.5 back with six games to go and we won.”
Beyond pep rally platitudes, the manager also had some specific reasons he though his team could put together a run in the season’s home stretch.
“I feel like we’ve got some of our guys back and our rotation is going to be more consistent and, if we can get that and we can get our bullpen in a better shape,” Gibson explained, “then everything kind of falls in line.”