This may be the most underperforming Arizona team ever, in terms of a gap between pre-season expectations and reality. After 28 games, the Diamondbacks have a record of 12-16, fourth in the National League West and 11th in the league overall. They have won just two of their first eight series and, perhaps most damningly of all, are a game worse than they were at the same point last season. After a winter where they splashed out on easily the biggest contract in franchise history, and traded away multiple top young players for Shelby Miller, so much was expected; but even allowing for the tough first month's schedule, the actual results have been hugely disappointing.
During the first road trip in San Diego, Steve Gilbert boldly went on the record to state that Chip Hale's job was absolutely safe for the 2016 season.
Chip will be manager at 40-game mark and the 162-game mark. https://t.co/JWeRntZRZ8— Steve Gilbert (@SteveGilbertMLB) April 15, 2016
Certainly, single-digit games into the season was too early to judge the team. But since then, the Diamondbacks have continued to undercut hopes, going just 8-9, and I am hearing rumblings that, if this road trip goes badly, then changes will be made. This wouldn't necessarily have to involve Hale, but he is perhaps the most likely candidate. There is precedent for a quick hook under current ownership: in 2009, Bob Melvin was fired just 29 games into the season - and if the D-backs lose tomorrow (going against Jose Fernandex, so not unlikely), Hale would then have precisely the same record at Melvin at that point.
That 2009 team was coming off a better season (82 wins) than the current one, but you'd be hard pushed to argue that hopes were higher for that squad, than the ones bestowed on the 2016 Diamondbacks. The big free-agent starting pitcher Arizona acquired that winter was... Jon Garland. Indeed, looking at the transactions for the off-season, I'm not quite sure what was expected. But whatever that was: 12-17 wasn't it, and Melvin got his cards - to be replaced by A.J. Hinch, who is now feeling some heat of his own with the equally underperforming Houston Astros. It's a small world.
The other obvious candidate pour encourager les autres is pitching coach Mike Butcher, who has overseen a staff with an ERA of 5.03. That's virtually an entire run, or a 25% increase, over last season's figure of 4.04. And it's with the addition of Zack Greinke, Miller and Tyler Clippard, three pitchers expected to make things better, but who have gone from a combined 2015 ERA of 2.40 to a 2016 ERA of 6.04. In particular, Miller's mechanics have imploded, and no-one seems to have any idea what to do. The latest suggestion is, it appears, a fond hope that pitching in Atlanta again will somehow help Shelby. I'm not filled with confidence by this.
I should stress that I am not advocating for Hale's dismissal. I personally don't think he's particularly the issue. But looking at his body language during yesterday's loss, as the pitching melted down, he didn't look like a man tackling adversity head-on - more like an armless man figuring out a plan of attack to handle a deep-fat fryer blaze. The team didn't exactly respond with vigor either: rather than mounting a comeback, the last eight D-backs hitters went down in order, five of them by the strikeout. While there have been bigger and worse losses this season, I'm not sure I've seen one where the team looked more obviously defeated.
Nor am I the only one wondering along these lines. Dan Bickley, writing in the Republic, said, "The Diamondbacks’ ragged start in 2016 has created unexpected targets and overheated backlash, and while job security is not an issue at the moment, this much seems clear: Another bad month might make things very uncomfortable for the current manager." If the rumors I've heard are true, it may not be a month, should the team continues to lose ground in an increasingly mediocre division. Ken Kendrick is not a man noted for patience, and were Aaron Blair to beat the D-backs on Friday, the embarrassment could be a final nail in someone's coffin, even for a funeral that's delayed.