Understatement: Tuesday's loss to Dodgers devastating for Diamondbacks
By the end of the third inning on Tuesday night, I thought I was finally getting a glimpse of solid starting pitching combined with run support and defense. Josh Bell -- the newly-ordained everyday third baseman -- hit a 453-foot home run, Henry Blanco had thrown out two base stealers, Lyle Overbay turned a 3-6-3 double play and Trevor Cahill was pitching well.
By the end of the fifth inning, I was a believer. The offense was clicking. Justin Upton had back-to-back RBI hits with runners in scoring position. Cahill had five strikeouts, the Dodgers had just four hits, and opposing starting pitcher Aaron Harang was out of the game. Then, when Brad Ziegler was throwing warm-up tosses before the start of the seventh inning, I knew the Diamondbacks were going to hold on to their five-run lead and get back within 10 games of the Dodgers in the NL West. Ziegler had been the most consistent Diamondback reliever to date and the bottom of the Dodgers' order was due up.
And after Lyle Overbay picked up Ziegler and Craig Breslow by getting his fourth hit of the night -- a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth -- I was, again, sure that the Diamondbacks would win. After all, they were a team that was 84-0 when leading after the eighth inning last year and J.J. Putz had converted all of his previous four save opportunities, going two-for-two in the previous series versus Kansas City.
The next inning, as Ivan de Jesus Jr. brought his career .194 batting average into the batter's box with two outs, I still had my money on Putz and the Diamondbacks to win, despite the two Dodgers on base.
And, somehow, I still liked the Diamondbacks chances to win with men on the corners and one out in the bottom of the ninth when Jason Kubel, who already had a sacrifice fly in the game, stepped up to the plate.
Of course, Kubel grounded into a game-ending double play with a full count and the Diamondbabacks -- predicted by most to win the NL West pennant -- fell to an unthinkable 11.5 games back of the Dodgers.
There's no reason to be certain of anything with this year's Diamondbacks. So far, every member of the bullpen has had multiple implosions. A quarter of the way through the season, Ian Kennedy has three quarters of his loss total from last year. Until recently, the team's situational hitting has been dismal. There are no timetables for the returns of Stephen Drew and Takashi Saito. The supposed solution at third base has never played even a third of a major-league season, and he committed an incredibly costly error last night. Paul Goldschmidt isn't producing. Miguel Montero's injury puts either Henry Blanco or Konrad Schmidt behind the plate. Daniel Hudson wasn't too great before he was moved to the disabled list, and there's no guarantee that he'll be any better when he returns. J.J. Putz has imploded five times in 16 games and has an 0-3 record with a 7.20 ERA. And the Diamondbacks have an MLB-worst 4-11 record in one-run games.
It doesn't stop there. The Diamondbacks are looking to avoid the sweep Wednesday by sending Joe Saunders, who is 0-2 with a 9.44 ERA in his last three starts, to the hill to face the undefeated Ted Lilly, who will bring a 5-0 record with a 1.79 ERA into the game. And it's not Lilly's record nor ERA that are the most worrisome for the Diamondbacks. It's the fact that he fits squarely into the Barry Zito/ Jamie Moyer/ Bruce Chen/ Chris Capuano crafty southpaw mold, which has dominated the team as of late.
A win Wednesday night will get the Diamondbacks back to 10.5 games back from the division-leading Dodgers. Another loss, and the defending NL-West champs would be a whole 12.5 games back in the division, their season in shambles just over a quarter of the way through the season.