Blame it on Sydney.
Is it really an excuse if it's fact?
I'm not blaming the fact that the Arizona Diamondbacks aren't contenders for the West on Sydney. The Dodgers and Giants have better players than the Diamondbacks do, that's why the Diamondbacks aren't contenders. I do blame the way the 2014 season has gone -- and will continue to go -- on Sydney.
Clearly, the easy response is: what about the Dodgers? They went too.
Yes, they did, but they were better on paper before the trip. The trip is affecting them, as well. Kershaw's injury is the big one. However, the Dodgers are supposed to be better than four games over .500. They would have the worst seed of any division winner right now. They're only a game up on San Francisco. This year isn't roses for LA, so far, either.
The baseline for Arizona this season is 81-81. When you finish 162-162 over the course of two years, you're a .500 team. The most significant changes -- excluding injuries -- from last year's team are the additions of Mark Trumbo and Bronson Arroyo. If you compare 2012 to 2014, Trumbo basically replaces Justin Upton as the poor defensive, high-strikeout power hitter and Arroyo replaces Ian Kennedy as the innings eater who can be madly inconsistent.
The 2014 Diamondbacks shouldn't be expected to be a 17-5 team. It's fair to expect them to be 11-11. So why are they 5-17? Sydney.
I spoke to someone I respect greatly who is a high-level front-office member of one of the other 29 teams. He put the blame on the shoulders of Sydney, Australia. I agree with him. Again, we're only talking about the difference between being 5-17 to 11-11. We know the top five reasons the team is 5-17. It's starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching and starting pitching. That's five reasons because that's the number of under-performing players in the starting rotation.
Bronson Arroyo 2014 ERA: 9.50 vs. career ERA: 4.23. 2014 WHIP: 2.00 career: 1.30.
Trevor Cahill ERA: 7.48 vs. 3.97. WHIP: 1.75 vs 1.34.
Brandon McCarthy ERA: 7.11 vs 4.20. WHIP: 1.42 vs 1.30.
Those are the biggest culprits of bringing the season to its knees and we're not out of the first month, yet. None of these three is considered a top-of-the-rotation guy, but there has to be a deeper reason why all three are having their worst start to a season in their careers.
Players are creatures of habit. For five years, Trevor Cahill has prepared for the upcoming season in spring training a certain way. McCarthy: eight years. Arroyo: 14 years. In 2014, everything is different.
Whether it's fair or not, you don't hear a lot of stories touting the mental toughness of Cahill. Now his entire spring is thrown off by ramping up early, pitching when it matters, dealing with getting shelled, then coming back and ramping down, just to ramp back up. Now, he's a reliever.
McCarthy has only finished above .500 once in his career and that was when he threw only 97 innings. He's barely a back-of-the-rotation guy when everything is normal. Only once in his career has his wins above replacement ever been higher than two. If you hate Sabermetrics, that, essentially, means only once in McCarthy's career did he provide better than two more wins than any other MLB pitcher.
Arroyo is the biggest question mark. Is he pitching through back pain but doesn't want to go on the DL for selfish reasons? Can the D-backs really afford for him to go on the DL? Is he, simply, not that good anymore? When will there be a sign that he's turning it around? Are you really eating innings when you get taken out of a game so the bullpen can get the pitcher out? Although he didn't go to Sydney, his spring was just as strange being a very late signee, missing spring starts with a bad back and pitching in minor league games for a week while his team was halfway across the globe.
My executive friend put it best when he said, "This team isn't good enough to catch the Dodgers and Giants, but they're good enough to start fast and hold on for dear life. Sydney killed that chance."
For a team that's completely based on never giving up and grinding their way to a victory, this team doesn't come close to pressuring an opponent into submission. The mojo of 2011 is long gone. Opposing teams three years ago allowed Arizona to sneak up on them early in the season and, then were pushed into mistakes by Arizona's unrelenting style. Now, the only reason teams get up to play the Diamondbacks is so they aren't asked, "How could you lose to them?"
Arizona has trailed very early in the game in almost every game they've played this year. In 15 of the 22 games this year, Arizona gave up the first runs. I'll write every number of every inning when the Diamondbacks began trailing in each game so you feel the pain of every position player: game 1, 2nd inning; game 2, 1st inning; 3rd; 1st; 5th; 1st; 1st; 1st; 1st; 2nd; 2nd; 1st; 2nd; 6th; 2nd. Only twice this year did the starting pitching wait until after the 4th inning to put his team behind. Only once did Arizona actually come back from one of these 15 deficits.
Read that last stat again.
For a team that never quits with its grinder mentality, Arizona is 1-14 when the opposition scores first. Every game is a quagmire now. The offense is trying to hit lead-off grand slams in a race to get the lead before the starting pitcher blows it. The starting pitcher is trying to make the perfect pitch because he knows the offense isn't going to make a come back. Mix in some errors and awful base-running, and you have the recipe for a team selecting first in the 2015 MLB draft.
I will continue to believe this team was going to finish about 79-83 for 2014 if it wasn't for Sydney. With the way the starting pitching is forcing Kirk Gibson to rifle through his bullpen, 95 losses will be hard to avoid. Blame the lack of division championship on Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson. Blame the last place finish on starting pitching, which didn't stand a chance after Sydney.