D-backs come out of break expecting to win, make run at playoffs

Rookie Robbie Ray has been the D-backs' most consistent starting pitcher over the past six weeks and gets the start on Friday as play resumes following the All-Star Break.

Matt Kartozian/Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Everything is relative.

As the Diamondbacks come out of the All-Star break three game below .500, there is a sense of how different things could be, how much momentum they could carry into the second half if they had won one or two games in New York instead of being swept by the Mets last weekend.

But it’s a very different picture still compared to where the D-backs sat a year ago. Coming out of the 2014 All-Star break, Arizona was 16 games below .500 and tied with Colorado and Houston for the second-worst record in baseball. From there, of course, the D-backs finished the season with the worst record.

It is a very different tone the D-backs (42-45) take into a three-game series against the division-rival Giants that kick starts a 10-game homestand to begin the second half.

"We’ve been up and down, but we’ve been getting better every day and hopefully we can continue to get better and make a run at, whether it’s the wild card or the division, any way to get in the playoffs," All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. "Guys have played as hard as anyone could have hoped for. If we keep doing those things; keep getting better — we have a group of guys who work hard — and keep learning, whether it’s through our coaches or through experience or through each other, there’s no reason we can’t make a run at trying to make the playoffs in the second half."

The D-backs are in third place in the NL West, 7.5 games behind the Dodgers and 4.5 back of the Giants. They are five games behind the Cubs for the league’s second wild-card spot.

"We’re starting to get to the point now where we come to the ballpark expecting to win," manager Chip Hale said. "That’s what we set out to do with these guys."

Consistency will be the key over the next 75 games, which includes a pair of 10-game road trips. The D-backs have a 2.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.

"We have high expectations for ourselves," center fielder A.J. Pollock told MLB.com following Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati. "We have played some pretty good baseball in the first half, but we expect a lot more. I think we are only getting better and better. We have a lot of young guys getting experience, and that’s only going to help."

D-backs at the break

Here are three things to watch for the rest of the way:

SECOND-HALF ACE

Opening day starter Josh Collmenter is a reliever again. So who is the team’s ace? Chase Anderson looked the part for much of the season’s first half but faltered down the stretch. Robbie Ray pitched very well in his eight starts, and Patrick Corbin is back from Tommy John surgery. "We always want to temper expectations for him because it’s going to be a work in progress for him," Hale said of Corbin.

DEADLINE DEALING

What will the D-backs do at the trade deadline? If they bolster their place in contention will they add a player or two to help down the stretch? Or will they look to shed payroll to add future financial flexibility? Of course, they could stand pat and see where exactly this young team goes.

MVP RACE

Goldschmidt is in the middle of the NL MVP race — though he’d never admit it. At this point, it is between Goldschmidt and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, and most national pundits give the edge to Harper. Will Goldschmidt be even better in the second half? How will the team’s play affect his individual chances? And will someone else enter the conversation?

Follow Chris Gabel on Twitter