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Diamondbacks 6, Cubs 4: Winning, in spite of themselves

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An ugly W, as Merrill Kelly proves again the only starting pitcher who can get a W.

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Record: 27-68. Pace: 46-116. Change on 2004: -4.

Through six innings this afternoon, the game had all the hallmarks of perhaps the most embarrassing Diamondbacks loss of the year. That was despite another excellent performance from Merrill Kelly, who was pitching economically and effectively. For the offense was squandering chance after chance in spectacular fashion, including one of the most cringe-worthy double plays I’ve ever seen. However, Arizona were gift-wrapped two runs in the seventh without a hit, breaking a tie, and they managed to hold on from there for the victory. That was despite a very strong sense of deja vu in the ninth, as Joakim Soria faced the man who homered off him yesterday.

To begin with, lets talk about Kelly, He became the first Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher to face any batters in the ninth inning since Clay Buchholz on August 16, 2018. The key to this performance was his economy. Over the first eight innings, Kelly did not need more than 12 pitches in any frame, and came into the ninth with a real shot at the franchise record for the fewest pitches in a nine-inning complete game. That stood at 93. Merrill had thrown just 75, and had a four-run lead, so it seems quite possible. Unfortunately, back-to-back hits, a double and an RBI single, probably forced the hand of manager Torey Lovullo, even though closer Joakim Soria took the loss last night.

The irony is that it doesn’t count as a quality start, since the runner Kelly bequeathed ended up scoring, to become the fourth run charged to him. Still, it would be hard to say this was other than another stalwart performance by him. Eight innings, six hits and no walks with six strikeouts. I mentioned in a preview comment how well Merrill does when he avoids the free passes. His record is now 5-2 when walking fewer than two batters, compared to 1-5 when he allows two or more bases on balls. Since the beginning of June, Kelly also has a record of 4-1. All other Diamondbacks’ starters are 0-19 combined over tha time. Still, over this series, our starters (Bumgarner, Gallen and Kelly) threw 19.1 innings with an ERA of 2.79. Hope? We’ll see.

It’s the sixth time this year the team has gone a whole game without walking a batter, something which stands in contrast to the Cubs. For, while the offense had its deficiencies, the Diamondbacks showed some good plate discipline and waited out some wildness to draw an impressive 11 walks in just 41 plate appearances. It’s the eighth time in franchise history they’ve had 11+ BB in a regulation game, but today was in the fewest number of PA. However, I think it’s fair to say, the good news for the offense largely stops there, except for Eduardo Escobar’s 21st home-run of the season (above). That two-run shot came in the eighth inning, and proved to be critical insurance, representing the final margin of victory.

But until then? Hoo-boy.

  • Third inning. Runner on third, one out. Stranded
  • Fourth inning. Bases loaded, no outs. Pavin Smith single for the first run of the game! Bases still loaded, still no outs. Nick Ahmed pops out, Daulton Varsho hits into a double-play.
  • Fifth inning. Bases loaded, two outs, after a Kole Calhoun single had made the score 2-0 earlier in the inning. Pavin Smith grounds out.
  • Sixth inning...

Ah, dammit - this one requires a paragraph all to itself. The Cubs had tied it up, stringing together a pair of two-out, RBI hits. But Arizona came back immediately, with an Ahmed single and Varsho walk. Merrill Kelly put down a very nice sacrifice bunt to advance both of the runners, and Josh Rojas drew another walk, loading the bases for the third consecutive inning with one out [There’s a reason the D-backs are actually fourth in the majors this year, for plate apperances with the bases loaded. Now, what they DO with those chances is quite another thing, but there has been no shortage of chances] Calhoun was up, with a chance to give Arizona the lead again. Instead, this happened.

Calhoun hit a hard ground-ball to first, where the Cubs’ 1B fielded it and threw home. Calhoun dove out of the way of the ball (that’s his first mistake, right there - I’m sure Tim Locastro would have worn it!) and tumbled to the ground. The Cubs catcher got the force at home-plate, then realized Calhoun had gone down and was only now heading up the line, after inexplicably first heading back towards home plate to retrieve his helmet. After what looked like a shocked pause, he threw to first in plenty of time to complete the inning-ending double-play. The old saw about “At any baseball game, there’s always a chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before”? This would be it.

After the game, Calhoun did say in mitigation that he was a bit concerned about his recently repaired hamstrings, and also thought the catcher had called time. Still, if that had proved to be the deciding factor in today’s game, I’d have been mightily peeved. However, the Cubs gift-wrapped a pair of runs in the seventh, in a way even the D-backs’ hitters could not spurn the offering. That inning featured three walks; a pair of wild pitches, one scoring a run; a hit batter; and an RBI groundout by Ahmed, which Statcast tells me went 3 ft at an exit velocity of 54.7 mph. Still, it did the job, and Arizona scored twice without having to go to all that pesky trouble of getting a hit.

After Escobar’s homer made it 6-2, things looked promising until the ninth, when the Cubs got the tying run to the plate against Soria, in the shape of Wilson Contreras, who had cracked a two-run homer off our closer the previous night. This time the outcome was different, as he took a called strike three on a full count, and the D-backs averted the sweep. Rojas led the offense, reaching base safely five times, on a hit and four walks. He was the first Arizona player with a four BB game in exactly four years, the last being some guy called Paul Goldschmidt, on July 18, 2017. Here’s the post-game audio from Lovullo, Kelly and Calhoun.

Post-game audio [or link]

Click for details at Fangraphs.com
Batman: Christian Walker, +27.8%
Bruce Wayne: Kelly, +18.8%; Escobar, +18.8%; Ahmed, +12.2%
Joker: Kole Calhoun, -19.4%

Almost 350 comments in the GDT, with those present being: AzDbackfanInDc, Diamondhacks, GuruB, Jack Sommers, James Attwood, Jim McLennan, Justin27, Makakilo, NikT77, Oldenschoole, Snake_Bitten, VW Beetle, kilnborn and since_98. A whopping seven Sedona Red comments from which I can pick; I’m going with Justin’s sardonic line about the atmosphere at Wrigley West, sorry, Chase Field this afternoon.

The D-backs finish their “road trip” and come back to what should be a more normal Chase tomorrow, starting a three-game series against the Pirates. Caleb Smith get the start, with the game beginning at 6:40 pm.