Bickley: Diamondbacks need to shut out the noise, start playing like a playoff team

Amid contention at Chase Field, the Diamondbacks are facing real pressure. Now's the time to start performing like a

Chase Field has been a source of contention in 2017. The stadium has spawned court battles over repair bills, hand-wringing over bipartisan crowds, and heavy-handed threats from Major League Baseball.

But these days, the Diamondbacks are playing baseball in a much different place:

Between their ears.

It's not going so well. The team has been scuffling for six weeks. Their lead in the wild-card race is shrinking. They are struggling to produce in clutch situations, too often failing with runners in scoring position. And in the midst of a huge stretch of games, they are wondering what happened to the hometown vibe that underscored their early success.

“I think the guys are fighting and grinding and playing the way they’re supposed to,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “And I’m OK with that. I’m actually OK with that. We’re in a little bit of a rut and this is when we need to link together, band together, trust one another, and continue to trust that we’re going to come out the other side of this.

“Things are OK. Things are OK. And I want our guys to feel that.”

Lovullo's demeanor belies the current temperature. For the first time this season, the Diamondbacks are feeling real pressure. The St. Louis Cardinals are closing fast in the rearview mirror, and a postseason berth no longer feels like a certainty. The manager has lost his golden touch, facing frequent questions over his lineups and his handling of the pitching staff.

Some of the struggles are understandable. The team has suffered key injuries, losing two shortstops and a pitcher who has been dominant for most of the season. And before Saturday’s game, Lovullo was very optimistic about the impending return of Robbie Ray, who was hit in the head by a line drive and faces his own mental battle when he steps back on the mound.

“His input to me was he felt as good as he has in quite some time, with no limitations from the incident,” Lovullo said. “Which was great news.”

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Chase Field has been a site of contention in 2017, especially recently with the Dodgers and Cubs in town. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)

The Diamondbacks suffered another setback this past week, losing their home-field advantage at a crucial time. They hosted the Dodgers, a team that’s been on a historic roll. The Cubs arrived in town as reigning World Series champions. Together, they represented a perfect storm, appealing to all their transient fans in the Valley.

The Cubs receive great support in almost every road city, but could any other stadium exceed the love they feel in Arizona?

“Honestly, yes,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “But I think it’s really exceptionally good (in Arizona) because of spring training, obviously. For 100 years it’s been here. I used to live down the street. I used to go to Hohokam (Park) all the time. …

“It’s a very heavy infiltrated Cub land, so it doesn’t surprise me. It was a pretty good turnout (Friday) night, and behind the dugout, they were all there. When things happen, you don’t know whether you’re home or away.”

The end of the Ballpark Summer Pass promotion has also drained some of the energy from Chase Field, where fans could attend every home game in June and July for $50. The arduous stretch of schedule hasn’t helped. The final game against the Dodgers and the first game against the Cubs were uphill battles, with the opponent jumping on the home team early, quickly engaging all the infidels in attendance.

This much is also certain: If the Diamondbacks want to be a playoff team, this is the time they must start acting like one.

Slugger J.D. Martinez has been here before. He remembers pacing the dugout after the Tigers fell behind in a playoff game, urging his teammates to raise their intensity. That’s when Miguel Cabrera asked him a series of questions:

“What’s wrong with you? If we lose this game, does somebody die? Does somebody become sick in your family? Are you on the edge of losing somebody?”

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Diamondbacks outfielder J.D. Martinez is used to the pressure of the playoffs, but he'll be preaching calmness to his new team. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

As Martinez shook his head, Cabrera finished by telling his teammate to relax, have fun and just play the game.

“I always say this and people look at me like I have a unicorn coming out of my head,” Martinez said. “But to me, there really is no pressure. What is pressure? It doesn’t exist. You can’t touch pressure. You can’t feel pressure. It’s the stuff we make up in our heads.

“And when you calm yourself down in that sense, then you’re balanced. When you go up there thinking, ‘I have to do the job,’ all you’re doing is putting pressure on yourself.”

As for dealing with all the transient fans, the ones that prompted Archie Bradley’s outburst earlier in the week?

After all, it’s conceivable the Diamondbacks will face the same sequence of teams if they make the postseason, where they could play the Dodgers and Cubs in succession.

“How do you shut them up?” Martinez said. “You beat them. That’s how you make them go away.”

Easier said than done. The 2016 Diamondbacks wilted under pressure, beginning with Chip Hale’s contentious postgame press conference on Opening Day. This year’s team must find a way to win big games and mental battles.

“Look, if you told me on the first day of spring training that we’d be 4½ games up in the wild-card race, I’d say, ‘Sign me up. Let’s roll. Let’s do that,’ ” Lovullo said. “So I feel good about that.”

I’ll feel better when the Diamondbacks win a series against a really good team.  And when the Chase Field crowd doesn't look so blue.

 

 

 

Reach Bickley at dan.bickley@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8253. Follow him on twitter.com/dan.bickley. Listen to “Bickley and Marotta” weekdays from 12-2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

bickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 3 Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, left, is tagged out by Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis while trying to score from third base on an infield ground ball by teammate Albert Almora Jr. during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)  Ralph Freso, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 4 Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, left, reaches for the plate as he is tagged out by Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis while trying to score from third base on an infield ground ball by teammate Albert Almora Jr. during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. The call was upheld by replay after the Cubs challenged the play. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)  Ralph Freso, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 5 Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, center, laughs as he talks with teammates before a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 6 Arizona Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 7 Arizona Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 8 Chicago Cubs' Jon Lester throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 9 Chicago Cubs' Jon Lester throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 10 Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte, left, cannot make the catch of a throw from Diamondbacks second baseman Brandon Drury to force out Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant (17) on a ground ball hit by Cub's Anthony Rizzo during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Phoenix.  The Associated Pressbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 11 Arizona Diamondbacks' Ketel Marte (4) reacts while up to bat during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 12 Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez (9) celebrates with Jon Jay (30) after scoring a run during the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 13 The Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 14 Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) prepares to throw the ball during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 15 Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) throws the ball during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 16 Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt (44) gets Chicago Cubs' John Lackey (41) out at first base in the second inning on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 17 Arizona Diamondbacks' Daniel Descalso (3) gets Chicago Cubs' Alex Avila (13) out during the third inning on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 18 Arizona Diamondbacks' Daniel Descalso (3) catches a fly ball during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 19 Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt (44) is congratulated by Tony Perezchica (1) as he runs past third base during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 20 Arizona Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez (28) gets tagged out by Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez (9) during the sixth inning on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 21 The Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 22 Chicago Cubs Jon Jay (30) scores a run in the second inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 23 Arizona Diamondbacks J.D. Martinez (28) runs towards first base in the third inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 24 Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant (17) gets hit by the ball in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 25 After finishing pitching in the fifth inning, Chicago Cubs' John Lackey wipes his face, having given up a two-run home run to Arizona Diamondbacks' David Peralta, during a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 26 Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Herrmann (10) beats out an infield hit as Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo (44) gets ready to catch a late throw during the fifth inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 27 Cubs baserunner Jon Jay scores a run in the second inning against the Diamondbacks on Friday.  Loren Townsley/azcentral sportsbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 28 Arizona Diamondbacks J.D. Martinez (28) runs towards first base in the third inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 29 Arizona Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt (44) gets Chicago Cubs John Lackey (41) out at first base in the second inning on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 30 Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) prepares to throw the ball during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 31 Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) throws the ball during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 32 Arizona Diamondbacks Daniel Descalso (3) gets Chicago Cubs Alex Avila (13) out during the third inning on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 33 Arizona Diamondbacks Daniel Descalso (3) catches a fly ball during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 34 Arizona Diamondbacks David Peralta (6) and Chris Herrmann (10) celebrate with A.J. Pollock (11) after scoring runs in fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 35 Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant (17) gets hit by the ball in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 36 Arizona Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt (44) is congratulated by Tony Perezchica (1) as he runs towards third base during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.  Loren Townsley/ The Republicbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 37 Arizona Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 38 Chicago Cubs' John Lackey throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 39 Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist (18) celebrates his run scored on a passed ball with Jason Heyward (22) during the first inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 40 Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Herrmann, second from right, allows a passed ball on a pitch as Chicago Cubs' Jason Heyward, left, holds his swing and umpire Mike Muchlinski, right, looks on during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. The Cubs scored a run on the play. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 41 Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, center, scores a run on a bases-loaded walk issued by Arizona Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker, left, during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, APbickley-diamondbacks-need-to-shut-out-the-noise-start-playing-like-a-playoff-team photo 42 Arizona Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker pauses on the mound after giving up two runs to the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug 11, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  Ross D. Franklin, AP

Sunday's game

Cubs at Diamondbacks

When: 1:10 p.m.

Where: Chase Field (Roof hotline: 602-462-6262).

Pitchers: Diamondbacks RHP Zack Godley (5-4, 2.94) vs. Cubs RHP Jake Arrieta (11-8, 3.83).

TV/Radio: FSAZ, FSAZ+/KMVP-FM (98.7), KHOV-FM (105.1).

Godley gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday, his third consecutive quality start. … He faced the Cubs last week on Aug. 2 at Wrigley Field and threw six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. … Godley is holding opponents to a .222 average with runners in scoring position. … Arrieta has been on a roll since the start of July, logging a 2.18 ERA in seven starts spanning 45 1/3 innings. … He gave up three runs (two earned) in a start against the Giants at AT&T Park on Monday. … He matched up against Godley on Aug. 2 and threw well, giving up two runs (one earned) in seven innings but took the loss.

Coming up

Monday: At Chase Field, 6:40 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Zack Greinke (13-5, 3.14) vs. Astros RHP Collin McHugh (0-1, 5.32).

Tuesday: At Chase Field, 12:40 p.m., Diamondbacks LHP Anthony Banda (1-2, 4.60) vs. Astros RHP Brad Peacock (10-1, 3.07).

Wednesday: At Houston, 5:10 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Taijuan Walker (6-6, 3.76) vs. Astros RHP Charlie Morton (9-5, 3.83).

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