Around 5 in the morning, Mountain Standard Time, the smoke alarm in my apartment started to beep furiously. This startled me out of bed, and startled me in general. Usually, a smoke detector going off means there’s smoke in the vicinity. That either means there’s a fire, or my apartment has been transported through time and space to the pit of a 311 concert in 1997.
Upon further inspection there was no smoke, nor any adjacent smoke. I was so not in danger of a fire that Smokey the Bear would give me a fist bump for a good job. And yet, the beep goes on. I try stopping it with the test button, it only satiates it for a minute at most. I check the connections to the wall. Those are good. Yet, my apartment sounds like a newscast interviewing someone dropping so many F-bombs. At some point I just unplugged the damn thing from the wall. It stopped. I no longer have a functioning smoke detector in case of an actual emergency, but that can be fixed later. For now, I can go back to bed.
Nothing seemed wrong with the smoke detector. There was no threat of fire in the area. Despite all that, the damn thing just keep making high-pitched warning shrills. Everything was as it should have been. I hadn’t gotten drunk one night and decided to futz with the wiring. For whatever reason it just decided that beeping incessantly was what was going to happen.
(Caution, segue of topic to “intro as metaphor” into “body of text” ahead)
If you haven’t been paying attention to the last two weeks of Diamondbacks baseball, you’re a person with a healthy outlook on life and I envy you and kind of wish I could drag you down here with the rest of us. Also, it’s been falling apart. Horribly. I need not give you the gory details, if you regularly read this site you’re probably aware of them, but it’s bad. Playoff odds have gone from “Pretty good!” to “Oh God, so much blood.” in that time.
It’s easy to diagnose the problem: The offense isn’t hitting at a good enough clip to give any margin of error to the bullpen, who seem intent on blowing leads late despite any margin of error. Simple, open and shut, figure out how to fix it in 2019.
Except, when you look at everything about this team, from how players performed last year to earlier this year, to the pedigree, to the process of trying to shore up holes in the roster, you might come away with the bewildered reaction of “Huh, that should have worked.”
Going into the season, you probably didn’t expect only three regular position player starters to have an OPS+ over 100 (Last year’s team, and I’m including J.D. Martinez, had 6.) You probably didn’t expect a bullpen that got a little better on paper to simultaneously fall apart at the most inopportune time. And yet, here we are.
Even after all of this carnage, Diamondback relievers are still 7th overall in MLB in reliever ERA. That’s still objectively good over a whole season! Like comedy, timing with the bullpen is everything. I know it’s 2018 and Win/Loss records aren’t really a great metric, or one at all, but it’s illuminating that Diamondback starters are 56-38 on the year, and the bullpen is 21-32. Again, doesn’t tell a complete picture, so don’t go getting Brian Kenny to constantly e-mail me cause I cited Win/Loss stats on a blog, but it provides some context.
The playoff chances may have been forever lost because of the results of a handful of one-run games over the last two weeks that could/should have gone the other way. That’s life, I guess.
The incessant beeping wasn’t solely caused by the bullpen, though. The Diamondbacks could have been in an okay position to push through this bad stretch in a decent place if they didn’t have to push through another bad stretch earlier in the year. Games in April and May count the same in the standings as ones in August/September. As you might recall, in May the Diamondback bats disappeared completely. Except for John Ryan Murphy, he put his offensive slump on a layaway plan.
But in case you’ve forgotten four months ago:
That’s a whole lot of futility. The Diamondbacks went 8-19 in May. Imagine if they were an only slightly bad 13-14. That’s basically the deficit in the NL West right there. Hell, imagine if they were 18-9. That would be awesome! They’d basically have the NL West wrapped up. The bad stretch in May made the bad stretch in September almost fatal.
Starting pitching has still, for the most part, been pretty good. That’s what makes everything so infuriating.
This is not to say that it’s solely some voodoo hex on the players. There have been some managerial missteps. “Let’s have Bradley pitch to Kemp again!” “Boxberger is going to be the closer always and forever!” “Let’s carry three catchers all season!” etc. But from a team-building perspective, everything seemed more or less fine, good, grand even!
Mike Hazen was right to foresee that the bullpen was getting taxed and acquiring relievers at the deadline was the right move in theory. I don’t think anyone saw Jake Diekman getting served up every time he took the mound. Not retaining J.D. Martinez was frustrating, but working out a deal to get a solid guy in Steven Souza Jr. should have at least plugged the hole, right? Some injuries, light hitting, and really aggressive slides later, it seems to be an unplugged hole at least for this year. Sometimes what seems like good process gets bad results.
The Diamondbacks aren’t out of it, and there’s still a few weeks of season left, so this may sound like a premature postmortem of the team. I hope it is! I hope they find some spark and lash off a winning streak and get to the top of the West. That would be really cool!
It’s a few hours later. I pick up my unplugged smoke detector and plug it back in, hoping that maybe it might have calmed down. The environment is still smoke-free.
I put the plug back in and-
I unplug it, defeated.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest this team is even capable of doing that quick of a turnaround. It would be nigh-miraculous. It’s just incessant beeping at this point.