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Diamondbacks 3, Giants 4: How Low Can We Go?

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Record: 71-74. Pace: 79-83. Change on last season: -11
Elimination number: 15. Playoff odds: quark-like

It's ironic to realize that what this team has done is basically the reverse of what the Rockies did last year. They were mediocre for five months (69-65), but then went 20-8 in September. We went 20-8 up until the end of April, but it's as if somebody flicked off the talent switch at that point. The Diamondbacks have blown chunks since, even when measured in relation to the near-historical levels of fail which have infected the entire division this year..

National League West standings since May 1

Los Angeles 61 58
Colorado 56 62
San Francisco 52 64
Arizona 51 66
San Diego 45 73

This afternoon's dispiriting loss - going one better than yesterday, by scoring twice in the ninth, not just to tie the game, but to take a lead today - completed what is perhaps the most miserable road-trip in franchise history. It's the first six-game losing streak of any kind for the team since September 2006. It also appears to be the first 0-6 road-trip since the team faced, oddly, the same opponents in Los Angeles and San Francisco, over almost exactly the same dates [September 3-9] in 2004. The difference is, that team started their travels possessing a record of 42-92 - not leading the division by 1.5 games.

That's just a subset of a Hadron Collider-sized zone of suckage, which has sent the team into a 3-13 tailspin, scoring 50 runs in those sixteen games and batting a pathetic .219. It's not quite the worst run of performances in franchise history: for example, from July 6-24, 2004, the Diamondbacks went 1-15, and were outscored 40-106. We also had 2-14 streaks in early 1998 and June 2006. But again: those teams were not leading the division. Hell, when the Mets were suffering their late implosion last season, one of the all-time worst, they only lost twelve of their final seventeen. Ditto the 2007 Brewers: they never went 3-13 at any point, even as they coughed up an eight-game lead.

Today's recipe was the same, stinky concoction we' ve seen all too often recently, and we didn't even have the excuse of facing a credible pitcher, as in the first couple of games. Brad Hennessey last started a major-league game in September 2006, but succeeded in restricting our feeble offense to just one run, on Stephen Drew's seventeenth homer of the year, over six innings and on a mere four hits. Meanwhile, our starter, Dan Haren struggled once more: he only allowed two runs, but lasted just four innings, and the Giants stranded six men in scoring position, over just those frames. Haren threw one short of a hundred pitches to get that far, allowing six hits and walking three.

He wasn't helped by rancid defense. Drew made two errors, while Reynolds added another to his MLB-leading tally. His total of 29 [including one at first] is the most by any player since Edgar Renteria reached the big three-oh playing SS for the 2005 Red Sox. Among third-basemen, you have to go back to Aramis Ramirez's 33 errors in 2003 for the Cubs. But probably the worst - certainly the most costly - mistake wasn't even an error, because Dunn didn't even touch the ball. To quote Nick Piecoro, "With the bases loaded, Dunn ran back on a Velez fly ball. Expecting it to hit off the wall, he turned around as if he was catching it - an attempt to fake out the baserunners. But when he spun to play the carom, the ball bounced on the warning track. Had he continued back, he might have caught it. Instead, two runs scored."

Middle-relief was solid, with Rosales, Cruz and Qualls giving the Diamondbacks three scoreless innings, and Brandon Lyon then pitched a scoreless eighth. I must confess I was wondering why our closer was brought into a tied game that early, but it seemed academic as the bats had remained frozen solid. As Arizona went into the ninth, we had mustered only five hits and were still trailing by a run. Having scored two runs in the ninth yesterday - albeit in a losing cause - surely we'd used up all of our mojo for this series. But, wait! Walks to Snyder and Clark followed, and Young then drove both base-runners in with a triple to deep center. Suddenly, miraculously, the Diamondbacks were three outs from an improbable victory.

Sigh. We should have known better, and there was a lot of nervous shuffling in the Gameday Thread as Lyon was sent out for a second inning of work. Getting one decent frame out of him has been a challenge of late - his ERA in nineteen games since the start of July is a meaty 8.50. But the alternatives were probably Peña and Rauch, both used yesterday, with poor results: what is a manager to do? Lyon allowed a one-out single and a groundout left the tying run in scoring position, with two men down, and Melvin with a tricky dilemma. Should he let the closer pitch to Rowand [.275, 13 HR] or walk him - putting the winning run on base - and go after the weaker-hitting Velez [.232, 1 HR] instead?

Inevitably, the decision Melvin made proved to be horribly incorrect. Though for once I do have to feel some sympathy for him, as I basically agree with the manager's choice, to walk Rowand and hope you can squeeze one more out from Lyon. That's probably what The Book would tell a a manager to do in that situation, and most of the time it would work out for the best. However, and this is probably inevitable the way things have been going for us, Velez  delivered a walk-off hit for the second day in a row, tripling an 0-2 pitch [yes, we were one strike away from victory] into the right-center gap, that allowed the base-runners to score, in an spooky re-enactment of Young's two run three-bagger to almost exactly the same spot in the park, barely minutes before.

[Click to enlarge in new window[
Master of his domain: Chris Young, +62.0%
God-emperor of suck: Brandon Lyon. -75.8%
Dishonorable mentions: Tracy, -16.2%; Drew, -14.9%; Ojeda, -14.3%

Not really amy surprises in the Master and God-emperor roles for the day, I think we can agree. You can also flip that chart vertically, and it reflects the interest in the Gameday Thread. Still, we had a significant number of posters, with a couple of first-timers...not the least of whom was my wife, mrs snakepit! Also present were kishi, TwinnerA, shoewizard, snakecharmer, mrssoco, utahdbacksfan, Azreous, 4 Corners Fan, DbacksSkins, damdrs1717 [welcome!], emilylovesthedbacks, singaporedbacksfan, britdback, bobman024, Scrbl and, in a blast from the past, the return of icecoldmo.

Interesting piece by Nick P in which he asks scouts what they see in the D-backs' recent struggles. Two quotes stood out: one said, "With Webb, something’s not right... He’s trying to manufacture sink instead of letting his natural sink happen. And his breaking ball doesn’t have the same bite. Maybe it is mechanical; I don’t think so. Maybe when you’re hurting, when you’re shoulder is hurting, you kind of compensate to do different things. Until I see him pitch well, I wouldn’t trust that he’s going to pitch well again." And another independently added, "“With Webb, I wonder if he’s hurt. The stuff is still pretty good, but the command -- he’s up in the zone more than I’ve ever seen him. He usually has pinpoint command and it’s far from that right now."

Dodgers just polished off the Padres, so they're 3.5 games ahead now. It's really time to face it: the season is basically all over, bar the shouting and further brave pronouncements from the players. It wouldn't be an unsurmountable lead if we were actually playing well: however, we've lost thirteen of sixteen, and who knows when or if we'll pull out of this apparently-terminal funk. Perhaps the most disturbing thing was the realization that I may end up having to cheer for the Cubs in the playoffs, as it looks likely they will be facing the Dodgers. Not happy. Not happy at all... Off-day tomorrow. Insert obvious comment here.