PHOENIX — Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler has this feeling. In a day or two, or maybe next week, the Diamondbacks will start on the path that will lead to a whimsical reflection later this season.
"Gosh," someone will say, "remember how bad we started this year?"
The D-backs understand their plight: With the worst record in the major leagues at 4-14, there is little time to waste or margin for error. The climb is steeper than the 1.2-mile hike through Echo Canyon that manager Kirk Gibson led pitchers, catchers and coaches on this spring.
Were it not for the godfather of comebacks, the Diamondbacks might really by worried.
General manager Kevin Towers has presided over two of the greatest recoveries in NL West history. In 1996, Towers’ first season as GM in San Diego, the Padres lost 16 of 18 games in June before righting themselves to finish 91-71. Their nucleus included NL MVP Ken Caminiti, center fielder Steve Finley and closer Trevor Hoffman. In 2005, the Padres survived a 4-14 stretch to again win the NL West, with Hoffman again playing a pivotal role.
The 1914 Boston Braves are the team every slow starter aspires to be, as they opened the season 3-14 before winning the 1914 World Series. The Miracles Braves, they are called. But more than a few playoff teams have had 4-14 stretches, or worse, en route to the postseason. The Indians had a 4-14 run last year and went on to win the AL wild card. The Athletics won the AL West in 2012 despite a 4-14 stretch. The 2006 Dodgers had a 3-15 stretch and won the NL wild card. The Mariners won the 2000 AL wild card with a similar run. The Braves went 2-19 at one point during their 1982 NL East-winning season. That is something to draw on.
"We know we have the ability," Ziegler said. ‘We believe in ourselves. At some point, something is going to click. Then it is going to click again and click again, and all of a sudden we get on a roll.
"But there is a lot of work to be done in the short term. Every single guy has to step up and play better than they have, or it’s not going to get any better. It’s a long season, and every team is going to hit some rough patches here and there.
"Hopefully this is the biggest one we hit and it’s right at the beginning of the year."
D-backs third baseman Eric Chavez and Class-A Visalia pitching coach Gil Heredia lived through a time kind of like now, where the light at the end of the tunnel appeared to be an approaching train. They were teammates in Oakland in 2001, when the A’s started 2-10 and hit a low point at 8-18 before reaching .500 for good at the All-Star break and winning the AL wild card at 102-60.
The key was taking baby steps to recover, Heredia said, making sure not to look too far ahead.
"We told ourselves if we could split the series on the road and win the series at home, we would be all right," said Heredia, who won his first two starts after the All-Star break in a rotation that included Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. "We did more than that. It was fun. When you put together winning streaks, it’s contagious."
The Athletics’ rough start did lead to some concern, as it has for the Diamondbacks 13 years later.
When you have five more months of baseball, you have time to get it together. But you have to get it together. You can’t continue to play the way we are playing and expect it to turn around. The play has to get better.
"It did bother us, but when you have five more months of baseball, you have time to get it together," said Chavez, who had 32 home runs and 114 RBI that year. "But you have to get it together. You can’t continue to play the way we are playing and expect it to turn around. The play has to get better. We have to have the guys turn it around, but it is not just going to happen."
The D-backs did not point to the Australia trip as among the reasons for their poor starts; the Dodgers, who made the same trip, are 10-6. Still, players are creatures of habit, and because of the trip, spring training started more than a week earlier than usual and also included games that did not count after the two-game series in Sydney did.
"Guys have been in the big leagues 10 years, and they’ve never had to make an adjustment like the trip to Australia," Ziegler said. "Going there was different. Coming back was different. We had a great time while we were there, but the baseball didn’t go well.
"It’s tough. We came back and everybody is kind of sluggish for a while. It is tough to flip that switch when your body doesn’t have it in you at that point."
The Diamondbacks’ issue has been starting pitching. The starters have made just two quality starts in 18 outings, one by Wade Miley, who is to start the first game of a three-games series at the Dodgers on Friday. The staff ERA is 6.02, in large part because the starters’ ERA is 7.63, 2.4 runs higher than that of any other team.
Opponents are hitting .321 against starters, and two adjustments already have been made, with Josh Collmenter and Mike Bolsinger joining the rotation and Randall Deglado and Trevor Cahiil moving to the bullpen.
"It’s a big concern," Chavez said. "We’re hoping to get it turned around — the sooner, the better. You would like to see signs of life soon."
The Diamondbacks had a team meeting to address the situation, a session Gibson uses as an affirmation. He did the same thing after the D-backs lost 12 of their first 20 games in 2011, when they recovered to win the NL West at 94-68.
"All in all, it’s disappointing," Gibson said. "It’s tough on anybody. Yet I still look at it and say that I think we could make history and this can be a special season. It’s eternally how I think. We started out not that long ago and we believed in ourselves. You might tell me why I should change that, but I disagree."