PHOENIX – Geography is the Arizona Diamondbacks’ best friend.
The Diamondbacks are 24-37 since May 1 but have managed to hang onto the lead in the woeful NL West, although the Los Angeles Dodgers had a chance to pull into a tie on Monday night.
As play began on Monday, the Diamondbacks would have been in fourth place in the other National League divisions. At 44-45, the Diamondbacks became only the second division leader to have a losing record on July 6. The first was Texas, which led the AL West with a 40-43 record in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
The Diamondbacks hope for a turnaround on a six-game road trip that opens at Washington on Tuesday night.
“This is a big road trip for us to kind of set a tone going into the second half,” manager Bob Melvin said before the club headed east. “We’d like to play well for a number of different reasons. One, to get our record better. We’d love to get back to .500 and above. Two, to kind of get past the road woes we had as of late. It wasn’t prevalent the first month. We need to play better on the road.”
Lately, it hasn’t mattered where the Diamondbacks have played.
They’ve stunk everywhere.
On Sunday, they wrapped up a 3-4 homestand by losing two out of three to the cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres. Arizona scored a total of six runs in the series.
“Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” first baseman/left fielder Conor Jackson said. “The first-place team can lose to the last-place team. That’s just how the game works. You’re going to play so many games throughout the year and sometimes you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game.”
Much of the blame for Arizona’s prolonged slump has been placed on the hitters. That’s nothing new.
The Diamondbacks last year won the NL West despite being outscored by 20 runs across the season. This year, they’ve scored 393 runs and allowed 390.
Center fielder Chris Young, pegged as an All-Star candidate in spring training, is hitting .236. After a hot start, right fielder Justin Upton has slipped to .242. Left fielder Eric Byrnes was hitting .209 when he made his second trip to the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds leads the club with 18 homers and 53 RBIs. But he has struck out 104 times in 290 at-bats, and his all-or-nothing approach at the plate seems to typify the Diamondbacks’ attack. With every game, the hitters seem to feel more pressure to produce.
“It’s tougher at times like this,” said Chad Tracy, who is hitting .283 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 32 games since coming off the DL. “It’s up to us to turn things around.”
The Diamondbacks are 21-11 against the weaklings in the West – but they’ve lost five of their last six in the division.
“We’ve had some success in the West, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed again,” Melvin said. “We’ve just got to play better, period. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. We just need to be able to string some series together where we win some series and just feel better about ourselves.”
TUESDAY’S GAME: Arizona (Webb 12-4) at Washington (Perez 2-5), 4:10 p.m. TV: FSNA. Radio: 1490 AM