This is not how the script was to be written.
Ideally, the Diamondbacks come off a brutal road trip of 16 games away from Chase Field in 19 contests, first face two teams playing under .500 baseball, and ready to seriously challenge for the National League West Division lead.
Returning from foreign wars on August 20, they were five games behind the division-leading Giants and in a favorable position to reach within striking distance.
Instead, the spilt a four game set with Miami and swept in three games from San Diego. Then, the auspicious fall from the NL West radar screen.
Subsequently, the Reds sweep the D-backs, and the 10 game home stand ends as miserably as it began.
Blowing a two-run lead in the seventh, the Reds’ Chris Heisey slammed two home runs and catcher Dioner Navarro and second baseman Brandon Phillips each connected once as Cincinnati defeated the Diamondbacks, 6-2 before 18,451 Wednesday afternoon in Chase Field, and completed the sweep.
Of the nine calendar days on the home stand, Arizona dropped games on eight of the days. Their only two wins at home occurred on Aug. 22 when they swept a doubleheader from the Miami Marlins.
“It was a terrible home stand,” lamented manager D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. “We’re not here for moral victories, and everyone is searching. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves and no one else does, either.”
The comparisons to last year’s NL West division title essentially stopped when the D-backs dropped under .500 during the Cincinnati series. Most pundits believe that those teams considered contenders for division honors need to play above .500 baseball.
“Our goal was and continues to be to hold games within reach, at one run, and then come from behind,” Gibson added. “If you look at some teams, the Orioles this season have been phenomenal in that area. That’s something we were able to do last year, but, now, it’s not one thing.”
Gibson is right, when he said, “it’s not one thing.” In gaining the division crown last year, the Diamondbacks experienced “a perfect storm” of several players putting together career seasons. This time, that didn’t work.
Centerfielder Chris Young , who started strong, landed on the disabled list two weeks into the season, and never recovered. Ryan Roberts, whose emotion and timely hitting was responsible for several key wins a year ago, declined in production and was eventually traded.
Offensive production from Justin Upton was down, and free agent Jason Kubel, who had a strong first half in 2012, had number fall dramatically in the second half.
“The way Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson turned out was drastically different than we hoped,” Gibson added. “That puts pressure on other aspects of the game.”
Kennedy’s record of 11-11 is well below his celebrated 21-4 season of a year and a fourth place finish in the NL’s Cy Young Award balloting.
Hudson, who was projected to have a break-out year in 2012, went down with a torn ulnar ligament in his right elbow, underwent Tommy John surgery on July 9, is essentially shut down until at least the All-Star game next summer.
With the emergence of Wade Miley and minor league call-ups Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, the starting rotation was shuffled dramatically. While the bullpen was as dependable in 2012 and it was a year ago, closer J. J. Putz has executed well.
Coming into Wednesday’s game with Cincinnati, Putz has recorded 22 straight scoreless appearances, and that’s good for best in the history of the franchise.
If the starting rotation underwent a dramatic transformation since the start of the season, Corbin might be considered at the epicenter.
Beginning the season in AA Mobile, Corbin worked his way through the AA and AAA level until his permanent call-up by the Diamondbacks on July 1. Since, he put together a 3-1 mark, with one save prior to Wednesday in that time span, and turned heads for a brief moment against the Reds.
Holding Cincinnati to two hits and three base runners through six innings, Corbin became subject to the long ball in the seventh and eventually dropped his season mark to 5-6.
A two-run blast which just cleared the left-centerfield fence by Heisey and a solo shot in the Diamondbacks bullpen by Navarro put the Reds into a 3-2 lead at that point, and caused Gibson to pull Corbin.
“(Cincinnati) is an aggressive team, and I had to throw everything,” Corbin said. “(On the home run to Heisey), I was behind in the count and left it up in the zone. Against a good team like that, you can’t do that. Our job is keep the score down and throw zeros.”
In their last eight home games, the Diamondbacks have scored four or less runs in each contest. The current six game losing steak equals a season-high set between June 30 and July 5, and now they face another challenging road trip.
“We have to stay mentally tough, and realize there’s still time to make a push,” said centerfielder Chris Young. “ We can’t give up the ship.”
In the end, Young offered a reasonable explanation for the current malaise.
“We just got beat,” he said. “There’s was no one area but things happened all in a row. Yeah, now we’re in a must-win situation and just have to keep pushing.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Diamondbacks now leave town with a 64-67 record and face another brutal road trip.
This time, it’s a 10 game odyssey with four against the Dodgers and three each with the Giants and Padres.
By the time they come they return to Chase Field to face the Dodgers on Sept. 11, their status as a serious player in the division race could be over.
First stop is Los Angeles and that four game set with the Dodgers.
In the opener Thursday night, Kennedy (11-11, 4.44 ERA) takes on Clayton Kershaw (12-7, 2.84).
On Friday night, Trevor Cahill (9-11, 3.99) opposes Aaron Harang (9-8, 3.70).
On Saturday, Tyler Skaggs (1-1, 2.92) takes to the hill against Josh Beckett (0-1, 4.76 with Dodgers after trade from Boston), and Sunday, it’s Wade Miley (14-9, 2.85) taking on Chris Capuano (11-10, 3.58)