In May 2010, the Diamondbacks went on a nine-game road-trip, visiting their NL West rivals. They never came back.
In May 2011, the Diamondbacks went on a nine-game road-trip, visiting their NL West rivals. And it's not looking good.
I mentioned the parallels between the two seasons in yesterday's Gameday Thread, but the loss at the hands of the GIants emphasized things even further. The defeat meant that both road-trips included a four-game streak where every defeat was by a single run, and the struggles were largely because of the offense evaporating - though admittedly, we haven't quite yet reached the depths to which our hitters sank last season. [Of late, it has mostly been a lack of clutch hits, which is slightly more comforting than pure offensive incompetence: since we blew out the Cubs on April 28, Arizona are 14-for-92 with men in scoring position]. It still makes for pretty bad reading.
2010 (9 games): 1.9 runs per game, .175/.240/.258
2011 (6 games): 2.8 runs per game, .223/.279/.289
As you can see from the graphic at the top, the Diamondbacks' record in 2011 has closely mirrored that posted in 2010, to the extent that, after a month and a half, the gap between the two W-L numbers has yet to be any more than two games. That's disturbing, because the disastrous 2010 road-trip basically drove a stake through the heart of this team, and they played out the rest of the season, like the Baseball Franchise of the Living Dead. The upcoming series against the Dodgers puts the team at a potentially similar turning point, having lost five of six for the first time this season.
How will they respond? "Gibby up" or "Hinch out"? If the team rebound to take the series in Los Angeles, then it was just another losing streak. But if they drop it, or worse, are swept, this has the makings of another very long season for Diamondbacks' fans. I think we can come back: we have had great pitching (a 2.42 ERA on the road-trip, over 52 innings), and were a couple of key hits from being 3-3 on the trip, at the very least. However, there are still glaring team weaknesses: outside of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, our rotation has generally been awful, and veterans Russell Branyan (bWAR 0.0), Melvin Mora (-0.2) and Xavier Nady (0.0) have been replacement level or worse.
Maybe it's time to look down to Reno, where the Aces have been destroying the ball. No: make that, DESTROYING the ball. Yeah, it's Reno - I know. In 35 contests. they've been averaging 8.5 runs per game, and the Aces' collective line this year is .315/.386/.533, a .918 OPS. The last two years, the Reno OPS was .801 and .807, so this is a whole level above anything we've seen before. The D-backs don't have a single player with 20 PAs and that OPS. Now, at the risk of repeating myself - yeah, it's Reno. We've seen players post great numbers there before, only to struggle when they come up here. But tell me you don't look at the numbers below and drool a little:
|Wily Mo Pena||DH||29||112||27||41||5||1||13||34||87||9||25||3||1||.429||.777||.366||1.205|
I left the positions in, because most of them can play at the spots where we need most offensive help - the corner infield and left-field. There's certainly questions about defensive ability in the case of Pena, for instance, and Kevin Towers has expressed concern about making the bench more right-handed - but both Tracy and Allen are left-handed, so would seem credible candidates for replacing Russell Branyan, who has been very disappointing, particularly off the bench (0-for-12 as a pinch-hitter). How long will the team carry Branyan, Mora and Nady, who are neither performing, nor part of the team's future plans?
We should note that the seeds of the 2010 season had been planted well before that late May streak of futility; when they left AZ on that fateful road-trip, we already had a pretty good idea of who the team was going to be. If we look at their record one year ago to the minute, they were 14-21, a .400 win percentage. The final record? 65-97, a .401 win percentage. The same is true for most of the sides in the National League: by this time of the year, winners and losers were already well-defined . The chart below shows, for all 16 teams, their W% at the end of play on May 12th, and their final W%.
The majority of teams finished the season within 35 points of where they stood on today's date, and three-quarters were +/- 60 points. Given Arizona's current win percentage of .417 and that, last year, only two teams improved by more than 35 points, there seems about an 88% chance we will finish with less than 77 wins - the spread from 62-73 victories looks the most likely spot. If we examine the overall history of the Diamondbacks, this is largely confirmed. Here is the chart of our W-L record over the first 50 games for each of the past eight seasons.
Even this early, there's already a sharp divergence between the 'bad' seasons (2004, 2009 and 2010) and the 'good' ones (2005-08), with the tone already being set for the former. And there's no denying which category the 2011 season appears to fall into. There's always scope for a late-season drop-off [2005 and 2006 both ended up below .500]. But in all of the franchise's winning seasons, we only once had a losing record on May 12th - in 2003, when we were 17-21, and finished with 84 wins. Otherwise, if we're below .500 then, that's where the team has found itself at the end of the year.
All the evidence suggests that time is running out for this team, if it wants even to make a stab at respectability. If they don't turn things round this weekend, it could prove to be the final nail in their coffin.