The Arizona Diamondbacks began the 2018 season playing like one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. But in the second half of the season, manager Torey Lovullo‘s ballclub completely collapsed, and them doing so is hard to fathom.
Last season, the D-Backs emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the National League, winning 93 games and advancing to the National League Division Series. And their 2017 success carried into the beginning of this season. They were 24-11, taking care of business within their division, and firing on all cylinders. Then, they fell to .500 (26-26), but played themselves back to the top of the division and even in late-August were still 71-56. Since their August 22 win against the Los Angeles Angels — which put them 15 games above .500 — the D’Backs are 10-22 and have fallen to 81-78.
Throughout that abysmal 32-game stretch, the D-Backs are 3-4 versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and 1-6 versus the Colorado Rockies — the two teams they competed with for the division this season. In September, the D-Backs own a 5.02 team ERA, which, collectively, has not been indicative on their pitching staff’s efforts this season.
Zack Greinke continued to perform like the D-Backs ace this season; Patrick Corbin was able to stay healthy and have a career year; before going down for the year with an elbow injury, Clay Buchholz was having a resurgent season and was the D-Backs most reliable starter at one point in time; Robbie Ray has pitched much better as of late; Zack Godley began the year on a high note. The Arizona bullpen has rounded out their superb pitching staff nicely. In fact, going into Thursday night, the D-Backs were sixth in team and bullpen ERA (3.74, 3.57).
The Diamondbacks have possessed one of the best starting rotations in the game over the last two years. And although they haven’t performed up to their standards this month, the team being on the outside looking in at the playoffs is not because of their pitching. All year long, the Achilles heel of this team has been their offense.
Despite the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Jake Lamb, among others, their offense has been underwhelming, to say the least. Going into Thursday night, the D-Backs were 19th in runs (683), 28th in hits (1,260), 19th in home runs (173), 27th in batting average (.236), 23rd in on-base percentage (.310), 22nd in slugging (.399), and 21st in OPS (.710).
Talent-wise, this isn’t a .500 team. They have an elite starting rotation, a reliable bullpen, and plenty of proven bats in their order. At one point, it looked like a given that the D-Backs would be playing in the playoffs for a second consecutive season. But then everything fell apart.
Their starting pitching began to fade, the offense never woke up, and the bullpen imploded at the worst possible time. But, how did Arizona allow such a collapse to take place? For the most part, they have a veteran rotation and multiple members of their starting lineup have been a viable source of offense in the past. Sure, losing J.D. Martinez to free agency was an immense loss, but the Diamondbacks were unlikely to re-sign the outfielder after trading for him from the get-go, and they were still a respectable offense before his arrival.
For the most part, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Yoshihisa Hirano, and T.J. McFarland helped form a reliable bullpen this season. All things considered, this team’s second-half downfall is puzzling. And when looking at how neither the Dodgers or Rockies have been formidable, the D-Backs are probably kicking themselves.
Even though they acquired All-Star infielders Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, the Dodgers never went on a tear, or gave off indications that they were going to take off offensively. Sure, they are likely to make the postseason and still have a chance to win the NL West for a sixth consecutive season, but it is more so due to the D-Backs and Rockies struggling than them going on a run. But unlike the D-Backs, the Dodgers have won most of their pivotal divisional games and series over the last month; the D-Backs have been dominated by their divisional foes in that time span.
The Rockies starting pitching has always been subpar, but they’ve kicked it into another gear lately and ultimately sealed Arizona’s fate by winning their last two series against them.
The Diamondbacks have talent around the diamond and a number of capable arms at their disposal. Going into this season, they were viewed as a surefire playoff team and a unit who could potentially overtake the Dodgers in the NL West. And for the majority of the season, they were holding that notion to be true.
Many felt the D-Backs had enough gas cans in their car to keep the engine running, but they ultimately miscounted the amount they threw in the vehicle and didn’t have enough tools to get back on the road when the time came. With three games left in the regular season, the D’Backs are eliminated from playoff contention — and it’s an outcome that was difficult to envision going into and throughout the 2018 season.