Arizona Diamondbacks limp out of All-Star break

PHOENIX – One of the key elements of winning is to have multiple players perform at a high level as one functioning machine. Earlier this season, that’s what the Arizona Diamondbacks achieved, and were able to reach the top of the National League West division.

Now, hard and difficult times have befallen.

Coming into the current six-game home stand with St, Louis, and Seattle, the Diamondbacks are four games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers Just one month ago, on June 21, Arizona was in first place with a mark of 45-30. That was good enough for a 2.5 game lead on the Giants and 3.5 game advantage of the Dodgers.

Now, the Dodgers have leaped past Arizona and San Francisco and lead the division with a 57-41 record before games of July 24. In that span of a month, the Dodgers made up seven games on the Diamondbacks and the Giants.

“When you dissect that and look into it deeper, we’re just not playing the kind of baseball we played up to those past 14, 16 games,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told after the club was swept by Cincinnati this past weekend.” It’s getting back to the foundation: Being a good teammate, working as hard as you possibly can for the guy sitting next to you, expecting good results — not hoping for good results — playing the game full-throttle and believing you’re going to get it done.”

The Diamondbacks fall from grace was as predictable as this was untimely.

Coming into the Cardinals series, the combined efforts of Miguel Castro, Jose Ruiz, Zack Davies, Justin Martinez (just optioned to AAA Reno), Austin Adams and Scott McGough have been ineffective. Over a stretch of the last 25.1 innings, they have combined to allow 44 hits, 41 runs, 40 earned runs, nine home runs, walked 16 hitters and sport a 14.21 ERA.

If the Diamondbacks remain competitive in a very competitive NL West race, the bullpen must be better. This leads to another important level.

Given the challenge of the bullpen, there is an added task.

As a team in general and the bullpen in particular, Arizona must find ways to put teams away. The term “blown saves” must be stricken from the club’s vocabulary and execution needs to be stellar. As the season heads into the final two months, the Diamondbacks know the Dodgers will be formidable. At the same time, several Arizona players are traversing through their first pennant run and their reaction and production will be placed under a microscope.

Another challenge for Lovullo is to find credible starters. At this point, only Zac Gallen and Tommy Henry appear the most reliable. Merrill Kelly remains sidelined with a blot cot issue and the Diamondbacks hope he can return this week. Kelly has not pitched since a 7-6 loss to the Giants on June 24. For the season, he stands at 9-4 and 3.22 ERA for 16 starts.

With the “we’ll do almost anything to win baseball games” attitude, Lovullo has traversed through the “opener” route. That transpired this past Sunday in Cincinnati. Reliever Ruiz started and lasted only 1.2 innings. Eventually, lefty Tyler Gilbert took the loss and represented a bullpen unworthy of shutting teams down.

Now, the Diamondbacks head into another difficult stretch of their schedule. After the Cardinals (44-56) and Mariners (50-49,) both boarding on .500, they hit the road for four at San Francisco and a three-game weekend set against the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins at Target Field. They quickly return home and face the Dodgers on Aug 8 and 9 in another critical test.

If the pitching has faltered, the hitting remains in concert.

Take that time period of June 21 again.

At that time, Corbin Carroll was hitting .298 and now before the Cardinals series, he dropped to .284. Christian Walker was hitting .272 a month and now he’s batting .260. Lourdes Gurriell, Jr. was hitting .276 and now he is batting .253. Ketel Marte is the only player which reason consistent. He is exactly the same at .291 as a month ago.

All of which portends these key players must raise their collective production. Increased numbers could be more difficult because more at-bats are added, and the task is more challenging to significantly raise a batting average. Still, numbers at this point of the season may not mean much. What matters is execution at the right time. Through the last critical weeks, that vital element of success has eluded the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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