Touch 'Em All: Disappointment in Cincinnati
They are NOT who we thought they were, and it's about time we recognize that.
The Arizona Diamondbacks continued to ride the seesaw that is the 2012 campaign with a four-game split with the Cincinnati Reds.
Just days ago the Diamondbacks were on the heels of an abysmal sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs, and it seemed like the time for the D-backs to raise the white flag and become sellers was drawing near.
Then, in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the D-backs took two of the first three games from the Cincinnati Reds and headed into Thursday looking to take a series from one of the NL's best teams.
Thursday's game started off great, as the Diamondbacks jumped out to a 6-0 lead over the Reds and looked like they were well on their way to a comfortable victory. Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Drew Stubbs singled, Wilson Valdez singled and with no outs Brandon Phillips came to the plate.
Phillips uncorked a three-run home run to left field, cutting the lead in half. But the Snakes still had that three-run cushion, so there was nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. The next inning the D-backs' pitching combination of Bryan Shaw, Mike Zagurski and Brad Ziegler surrendered four runs to the Reds, and Arizona officially failed to hold onto a six-run lead with just 12 outs left in the game.
Kirk Gibson's squad ended up splitting the four-game series with Cincinnati, but with the terrible aftertaste left by Thursday's loss, you'd never know it.
The fact is that the Diamondbacks are not who we - or Dennis Green for that matter -- thought they were. Coming into the season, we -- as a collective D-back watching whole -- were certain that this team was what they were last year; a team that was never out of a game, and never gave up a game they should have won.
The 2011 team had "it." They just had a confidence about them that someone on the team would come through when they needed it. They had a confidence that if they took a lead and handed it to their bullpen, the bullpen would shut the door. The 2012 team does not.
We all expected this 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks team to be just like the 2011 team, but they aren't. In fact, they are a team without an identity, because just as they are not who we thought they were, they are also not who THEY thought they were.
They thought they were a team that could win the NL West this year and compete for a title, but they are not, not the way they've been playing at least. The Diamondbacks, for lack of a better diagnosis, are trying too hard.
They're trying too hard to be a team that can beat other teams based off of sheer talent, something that they cannot do. What worked last year was that Arizona understood that in order to win games, they would have to out-work their opponent, but that sense of effort has been lost this season.
Will they win the division or even make the playoffs? That is something only time will tell.
For now, it is important to admit for all of us who speculated about the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks, that they are NOT who we thought they were. And perhaps we crowned them a little bit too early.
Series Report Card
Arizona took two games from the Reds and split the series, but after looking atrocious on Tuesday and blowing a six- run lead on Thursday, the team is getting a D+. They should have done better in this series, and it seems like that has been the motto the entire season.
The Diamondbacks offense, outside of a scoreless effort on Tuesday, bounced back fairly well in this series. The team scored 18 runs in the three other games, and was really putting the bat on the ball well. The absence of Jason Kubel in the first two games was noticeable, but even more noticeable was his return performance on Wednesday, in which he blasted two home runs to help lead Arizona to victory. ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law told Doug & Wolf the other day that the reason for Justin Upton's slump is that his swing is not right. After watching him in this series and the series past, I completely agree. J-Up hasn't had a home run since June 23rd, and has seven on the season. For a team that plays in a hitter's ballpark, that number of home runs is almost unbelievable for a player possessing the sort of power that Upton has. With trade rumors circulating, you have to wonder if the D-backs might actually try to make a deal to bring in some more offense. If they don't end up selling, they could certainly use a more consistent power threat in the lineup, because Upton just hasn't been that this season.
Arizona's defense was sloppy in Cincinnati, as the team had three errors over the course of four games. The defense, which had been so consistent over the course of the first few months of the season, has really fallen apart over the last few weeks. The D-backs are really shooting themselves in the foot with errors, as they cannot afford to be handing other teams runs without earning them.
The Diamondbacks' pitching staff had a decent series in Cincinnati, with a few good moments and a few bad ones. Wade Miley struggled early on Monday, but settled in well to earn his 10th victory of the season, the most of any of Diamondbacks pitcher. Trevor Bauer, who averaged four innings per start in his time in the Majors, was sent to the minors after a very bad outing on Tuesday. Ian Kennedy got a lot of run support and was as effective as he's been all season in his win on Wednesday. Then on Thursday Joe Saunders was very good up until he allowed a three-run home run to Brandon Phillips in the sixth inning. So overall, the starting pitchers were pretty good, but the bullpen struggled mightily, especially in Thursday's game. Bryan Shaw's problems of late continued, as he earned his fourth loss of the season after his very bad performance in the seventh inning on Thursday. J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and even Brad Ziegler are solid, but after those pitchers the rest of the bullpen, which was one of this team's strengths last season, is really a toss-up. Sometimes those pitchers are good, and sometimes they are terrible, but that inconsistency cannot be around if the D-backs want to make a run.
Kirk Gibson decided to wait an extra day to bring back Jason Kubel, and that decision was a great choice, as Kubel hit two home runs in his return game on Wednesday. Gibson has to find a way to change his team's mindset going forward, or his own leadership could fall into question before all is said and done.
Play of the Series:
This award goes to Justin Upton for his single that scored Miguel Montero on Monday. Sure, the play itself wasn't anything stupendous, but the fact that it ended up being the game-winning run was huge. Not to mention that it was Justin Upton coming up large in the clutch, which is something the team desperately needs to become a regularity.
Player of the Series:
The winner of this award is Jason Kubel. Yes, he didn't even play in half of the series, but he made his presence known on Wednesday, belting two huge home runs to propel the team to victory.
The "Dikembe Mutombo Finger Wag" Award:
This award goes to Bryan Shaw. Shaw had a hot start to the season, but has struggled of late. He pitched one-third of an inning on Thursday and was lit up like a Christmas tree. In his last five appearances, Shaw has given up five runs. Come on, man!
Best Moment of the Series: The best moment of this series was seeing Jason Kubel return to the lineup. I've already discussed his two home runs, but the excitement that there was when he stepped in and crushed the first one, at least where I was watching the game, was great. Kudos to Kubel, and I'm looking forward to him keeping it up.
The Road Ahead:
The Diamondbacks return home to Chase Field and welcome the Houston Astros for a three-game set over the weekend. Sunday's starter is up in the air, but it will likely be either Patrick Corbin or Josh Collmenter.