Fan Confidence: Take the Punches

DETROIT - JUNE 25: Victor Martinez #41 of the Detroit Tigers scores on a double off the bat of Alex Avila #13 as Miguel Montero #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks attempts to put on the tag in the second inning of the game at Comerica Park on June 25, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated Arizona 6-0. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

There is a distinct thread of paranoia making its way through the Diamondbacks fanbase, or at least the part I access.  The Diamondbacks haven't been flying as high as they might have been during some of their longer streaks this year, but they're still winning.  They haven't yet held any significant lead for the division, but they're still in the race.  They might lose a little more close games, but they're still winning more than they lose.  The bullpen might not be over-performing, but it's not a disaster yet.

Is there a sport where everything is decided in the beginning?  Perhaps a track and field event, but the sports Americans idolize are about the long game: baseball, football, basketball, boxing.  Keeping your opponent close and simply wearing them out is a legitimate tactic, especially when the opponent is stronger.  It requires great will and concentration, however.  You have to be able to take a punch, then another, then more.  But when it's time to streak, you have to be ready.

The Diamondbacks are an inside fighter facing a brawler.  They need to keep this close, withstand the blows, and counterattack when appropriate.  The match isn't, though, and halfway through the season the Diamondbacks are in pretty good shape.

It's hardly time to panic.  

On May 13th the season seemed to be another disaster.  It might still turn in that direction, but who honestly had hope on the 13th?  The Diamondbacks had just been swept by the Giants, and lost to the Dodgers that day to extend the losing streak to 5 games.  They were 15-21, in fourth place in the division, and would bottom out a couple days later.  Since then the team has been in overdrive.  A record of 28-14 for a ridiculous .667 winning percentage.  Winning streaks of 6, 7, and 4 games in the month and a half since the bottom.

The losing streaks have been remarkably limited as well, with only 2 instances of a 3 game losing skids.  The only problem is that the Giants are winning, too.  The Diamondbacks have been in first place for 9 days, and haven't had a greater lead than .5 games.  But when they've relinquished the lead they haven't fallen far.  The biggest gap for the month has ben 2.5 games.  This isn't a fight that will decided in June.

And the Diamondbacks have shown remarkable fight.  Among some circles it's understood that a manager's biggest impact in late game situations.  So how is Gibson doing there?  Either he's getting lucky while banging rocks together, or there some bizarre method to his madness because the Diamondbacks continue to win in 1 run games.  Remember that streak of 1 run losses in May?  Even with those 5 losses, the Diamondbacks are 17-10 in 1 run games.  In the most recent weeks this trend has continued, though not to such extremes.  The D'backs are 5-3 in 1 run games since May 27th.  

Last year Jdub, a member here, was keeping track of the amount of times the Diamondbacks' bullpen gave up the lead at the end of a game.  It was an illustration in last year's futility, where fantasies of a stronger bullpen made everyone wonder, "what if?"  The bullpen this year started out strong, and has faded a bit in June, but still seems to be keeping things close.  Wins might not be a very instructive stat, but losses can be as a way to see a game that a reliever tipped the balanced.  In June 6 of the 12 Diamondbacks losses have been the result of the bullpen, and yet the team still has a winning record for the month.  The old ghost of "what if" might be returning.

So who are the culprits?  Aaron Heilman is a convenient target, but he's actually gotten comparatively better, giving up only 6 earned runs of his 22 for the season.  On the other hand, that might be the lower leverage situations he's appeared in for the month: 6 of his 10 appearances have been for losses, and only one is attributed to him.  Esmerling Vasquez?  He's appeared mainly in losses but hasn't taken one for a decision.  7 of his 14 ER for the season are from June, but that's spiked by a game where he gave up 4 runs.

David Hernandez?  He's given up an astonishing 9 of his 14 ER of the season in June, and taken 2 losses.  But both of those cases are likely more a symptom of overuse, as all of his ER from June are from the 2 games.  On the other hand, he's only done a few back-to-back games, and seems to be mainly used every other day.  

A surprising spike is JJ Putz, who seems to be falling back to earth.  Last night's loss added another tally to his 6 ER for June, compared to 11 for the year.  Maybe he'll get the ship righted, but this is cause for concern.  3 blown saves and a loss for a month is not Easy Button.

I don't think it's any one guy in the bullpen we can point a finger at and say, "get him!"  Instead, we might want to look at the backend of our rotation.  Josh Collmenter and Zach Duke aren't getting it done.  Maybe one of them would be acceptable as a backend starter, but it's brutal to have both go back to back and have to expect a two game losing streak.  Unfortunately there don't seem to be many easy answer.  Is someone ready in the minors?  I'm sure IHSB has a better answer to that.

The season feels in jeopardy because our expectations have been shifted.  Whereas before we might have been only happy for a winning season, or even just barely a losing season, or even just not the cellar, now we hope for first.  It might not be in the cards.  The Diamondbacks have shown remarkable fight to even be sitting in 2nd in June.  But as I've mentioned before, it's not particularly remarkable to be ove-rperforming in the middle of the year.  Where will we be at the end of the year?  

If I had an answer to that I'd be in Vegas putting my money on it, but the team hasn't given up.  And that's the most dangerous kind of fighter.

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