Just over a month ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks put a scare into the baseball world. For a team expected to be mediocre at best, the Diamondbacks flirted with a .500 season and caused pundits to reassess preseason predictions.
With conversation centering on a rise from the depths of despair and whether the club would be buyers or sellers by the trading deadline of August 2, talk quickly went south.
After defeating Kansas City 8-6 in Chase Field on May 24, Arizona rose over the .500 mark to a record of 23-22. That represented the only time this season the Diamondbacks jumped into positive territory, and since, the downfall has been steady.
From June 18 and June 24, the club dropped four of five and reached a level of eight games under .500 at 32-40.
“We have to figure it out,” said manager Torey Lovullo after the team dropped a 4-1 decision to Detroit on June 24. “We have to find a way to go out and every day, make something happen. We need to block out the noise, fight the good fight and go out to the best of our ability.”
This positive tone seems most repetitive, and the needle is stuck on the same spot on the record player. Always the eternal optimist and politically correct, the pain and anguish do sweep across Lovullo’s face with regularity. The natural enthusiasm of a winner, which characterized his early years in the desert, now caused a reverse fortune. These days, Lovullo is prompt to the pregame and postgame interview room, politely answers all questions, and generally remains positive. After all, that’s essentially his job.
Yet, the losses and frustration have become an everyday occurrence.
“When you’re losing and grinding, everything becomes magnified,” Lovullo said. “We have to get off that trend. We have to break that pattern. All we can do is try and win tomorrow. We need to create opportunities and that’s on us.”
The words may be inspiring, but the players’ execution has been less than stellar. Therein lay significant reasons for the current demise. Pitchers are not making the right pitch and hitters are not putting up crooked numbers.
On June 24, starter Merrill Kelly, who was off to a credible start, failed to locate one, critical pitch and paid dearly. In this game, the Tigers loaded the bases in the third. Here, Kelly failed to locate a curve ball and Javier Baez deposited the mistake into the leftfield bleachers to sink Kelly and the Diamondbacks. One pitch, Kelly lamented afterward.
“I missed with it,” Kelly told mlb.com. “It was supposed to be out of the zone. It wasn’t a bad pitch but with two strikes on him, it has to be a chase pitch and I just left it up and he did miss it.”
When your team is in a free-fall, sliding pattern, the last thing to commit is a glaring mistake. Given the Diamondbacks continued woes at the plate, that reality is a frightful combination of disaster.
Coming into the June 25 game against the Tigers in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks continued to swing the bats at a lowly productive rate. Their team batting average of .214 is the second-lowest in the majors and only the Oakland A’s, at .211 as a team, is lower.
Plus, the starters, productive over the initial month of the season, have fallen on hard times. Madison Bumgarner, considered the titular head of the staff, is 3-7 and an ERA (3.75) approaching four runs over nine innings, Zac Gallen, who was among the NL ERA leaders over the first month of the season and under one run per nine innings, is 4-2 but his ERA is approaching three runs per nine innings at 2.92.
The back end of the bullpen has been inconsistent and rumors afloat that both Ian Kennedy, Lovullo’s set-up reliever, and closer Mark Melancon (2-6, 5.79, 11 saves) will be traded by the trade deadline.
For now, the pattern is recognizable and the rut all too familiar. At the best scenario and with more than half of the season remaining, this team will likely limp, as in past years, to the finish line.