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To finish third in NL West, Diamondbacks have huge task ahead

To catch the Padres for third in NL West, Mark Trumbo and teammates need to string victories together.
To catch the Padres for third in NL West, Mark Trumbo and teammates need to string victories together.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There’s not much to salvage in this dreadful season, but the Diamondbacks still have some expectations.

Coming into Saturday’s game with the San Diego Padres, the D-backs were in fourth place within the National League West Division. The Padres held the spot right above and, not including Saturday’s game, the teams have nine games left between them. Before Saturday’s game, the Padres held a six game lead over Arizona and seven in the loss column.

Given the Diamondbacks’ inability to bunch wins together, the task ahead would appear rather large. Then again, the Diamondbacks maintain just a three game lead over Colorado and out to avoid the dubious distinction of finishing last in the division.

In saying the obvious, manager Kirk Gibson told reporters before Saturday’s game, “we would like to finish in first place.” Realistically, that’s not possible nor is a second place finish. For 2014, the Dodgers and Giants will battle for the division lead and that leaves the Padres or the Diamondbacks trying to finish behind.

As well, the immediate opposition traverses “the party line.”

“At the start of the season, every team wants to finish first,” said Bud Black, the San Diego manager. “The expectation is to win your division, win in the playoffs and win the World Series. After 162 games, you take a look where you are at that point. But, you don’t want to finish anywhere than first.”

Prior to Saturday‘s game for the season, the Diamondbacks have won seven of the 10 games this far with San Diego, and have those eight to play. After the current series in Chase Field, the teams engage in a four-game set Sept. 1-4 at Petco Park and then have three more at Chase Field Sept. 12-14.

“You want to go as high as you can,” Gibson said. “(San Diego) made some moves, improved their hitting and their pitching has been good this season. We had a chance to catch them but had that losing streak.”

The reference here is to the Diamondbacks’ recent trip. With stops in Cleveland, Miami and Washington, Arizona managed a 2-8 mark and swept by the Nationals.

For the Padres, the fortunes have been in reverse.

Since the second half of the season began on July 18, the Padres, coming into Saturday’s game, are 18-14, tied for the fourth best record in the National League. In various offensive categories, the Padres are tied for third in the NL in runs scored, second in the NL in average runs scored per game, and third in the NL in batting average.

In the period in which the Diamondbacks lost six straight from Aug. 16-21, the Padres went 5-5 to widen the gap to its’ current six game advantage before Saturday’s contest.

MOVING FORWARD

Before Saturday’s game, Gibson explained the surge of infielder Cliff Pennington at the plate.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Pennington reached base in nine of his last 11 starts and hitting .311 since his August 6 return from the disabled list.

Placed on the DL with a sprained right thumb June 2, Pennington lost more than two months of the season but Gibson said adjustments made over time have helped.

“He’s taking more of looping swing and keeping hands down on the ball,” Gibson said. “Actually, it started last season and carried over. He’s worked hard and it’s paid off. Overall, he’s been more consistent and is an experienced player.”

Pennington was in the line-up Saturday, hitting second at second base, against Padres’ right-hander Andrew Cashner.