The day before the Diamondbacks began their 13-game win streak, their lead for the top wild-card spot was just half a game over the Colorado Rockies. A week later, it had grown to three. After another week, it was up to 7 1/2 games.
It seems all it takes is a week for a seismic shift to take place in the National League wild-card race. After Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks’ lead is back down to an uncomfortable three games.
The worst part, if you’re a pessimist: There are still two games remaining in this four-game series, meaning the lead could be down to one by the time the Rockies depart on Thursday evening.
“I think we’ve got to just focus on ourselves,” said Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose team has lost four of five since the 13-game streak ended. “We’ve got to focus on one game at a time, one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time. Not look too far ahead. Just come out tomorrow, play hard and try to get a W.”
Carlos Gonzalez took a pair of swings on Tuesday night that looked like carbon copies. Both came off pitches in the same part of the strike zone and produced balls that landed beyond the pool area in right-center field. Both went for two-run homers. And together they proved to be the difference in the game.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks put runners on base and stranded them. It is the formula they have followed for so many of their losses this season. It was the formula again on Tuesday. They went 0 for 7 with men in scoring position.
The most glaring of the Diamondbacks’ missed opportunities came in the third. They loaded the bases with nobody out against Rockies right-hander Jon Gray, then got one run home on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. Paul Goldschmidt followed by hitting a soft liner to shortstop Trevor Story, who caught it and flipped to second to double off David Peralta.
“I just think we made a little bit of a mistake baserunning and it cost us,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “It didn’t allow J.D. (Martinez) to get up to the plate. I think when you’re sitting there and evaluating the situation and the bases are loaded with no outs, you’re feeling pretty good. We got one, but the expectation was to get more than one, and I think that was a big boost for them. You can see what happened after that.”
The Diamondbacks managed to do little else against Gray, who finished with no walks and 10 strikeouts in seven innings. Martinez was their primary source of offense. He clubbed his 22nd homer in 47 games since joining the Diamondbacks. He also doubled to start the ninth but wound up as the sixth and final baserunner the Diamondbacks stranded.
Gonzalez’s first two-run shot came in the third, on a misplaced fastball from Walker. Facing right-hander David Hernandez in the seventh, Gonzalez got a hanging breaking ball on a 2-1 count and launched it for his fourth homer in five days. His offensive turnaround has sparked the Rockies, who have won six in a row and eight of nine, all of them coming after the Diamondbacks swept them Sept. 1-3 at Coors Field. It includes a four-game sweep of the first-place Dodgers in Los Angeles.
“At this point, the personal numbers don’t matter,” Gonzalez said. “There are two teams going head to head for a playoff spot. Anything that helps is good. … We came off that series against LA, we knew we had to keep it going.”
They have. They’ve built a small cushion over the St. Louis Cardinals (3 1/2 games) and Milwaukee Brewers (four games), and they’re threatening to wrest home-field advantage away from the Diamondbacks for the Oct. 4 wild-card game.
“It’s fun,” Walker said. “It’s been like this all year. That’s what it’s about. It’s a tough decision, and you’ve got guys from other divisions coming in, the Cardinals and stuff. It’s going to be fun. This is where you have to play clean baseball.”