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Dan Bickley

Diamondbacks are a wicked conundrum as All-Star break nears

Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher, left, and manager Torey Lovullo watch as relief pitcher Jorge De La Rosa struggles while facing Colorado Rockies' Gerardo Parra during the second inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Diamondbacks are the greatest of teams and the worst of teams. They make winning look easy. They make hitting look impossible. They turn every month into an adventure. They are bipolar at baseball, capable of exhilarating highs, subterranean lows and very little in between.

Are you captivated or skeptical? Riveted or ready to watch Josh Rosen throw a football?

After an absurd loss in Colorado on Wednesday, the Diamondbacks are searching for more gauze tape and superglue. Their starting pitching is destroying the bullpen.

Shelby Miller can’t start another game. Daniel Descalso pitched the fourth inning of a 19-2 loss, the earliest a position player has taken the mound in nearly 40 years. He was taken deep by the opposing pitcher.

Prior to the flogging, the Diamondbacks had won nine consecutive games at Coors Field. Maybe they had this coming.

But this is nothing unusual for a team that just posted a 15-run victory and a 17-run defeat in the span of four days. They won 20 of their first 28 games, only to lose 19 games in the month of May.

After 93 games, Zack Greinke’s .294 batting average is the highest on the team. It has a 34-year old relief pitcher with Rookie of the Year credentials. Torey Lovullo insulted one of the most respected catchers in baseball.

Clay Buchholz revealed his deep kinship with Donald Trump, who once introduced the starting pitcher to his future wife. And the team’s most marketable star, reliever Archie Bradley, admitted in a radio interview that he once “pooped his pants” before entering a game.

This can’t get any stranger. But it will.

“There’s a lot happening here inside of our day-to-day baseball activity that you don’t see it very much,” Lovullo said in his post-game press conference Wednesday. “And these guys keep plowing away, plowing through it. The 20 runs (on Saturday) followed by a 16-inning game (on Sunday). I’ve never seen something like that. We gave up 19 runs today, I’ve never seen something like that. Our position players had to cover four-plus innings, so it’s a weird set of circumstances.”

The team faces hard and fast decisions.

Who to chase at the trade deadline? Can they mortgage enough to acquire the game-changing bat of Manny Machado? Will Robbie Ray find his mojo or do they need another starting pitcher? How do they chase a pennant when the team keeps shifting, when strength becomes weakness overnight, in a year when the National League seems wide open?

General Manager Mike Hazen pulled it off in 2017, snagging J.D. Martinez at a bargain price, feeding the team exactly what it needed to make the playoffs. The organization surely understands the significance of the moment, fielding an aging team that will likely lose Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock when the season is over.

The D-backs have one chance to seize glory before the heavy lifting begins.

In some ways, it might’ve been easier if Hazen’s inaugural team didn’t surprise us all with a postseason berth in 2017. He could’ve launched immediately into rebuild mode without a whimper of protest. Instead, he has a team that needs to take an important step, building a winning culture and a deeper fan base by posting consecutive playoff appearances. That kind of encore has been a rarity in the one-hit world of Arizona sports.

On some nights, the Diamondbacks seem deliciously close to a World Series appearance. On others, they seem ripe for another collapse. They are a team with a soft chin. And a team that keeps getting up and punching back.

The Diamondbacks understand another truth. The Suns are riding fresh momentum. The Cardinals have a franchise quarterback. Around Valley water coolers, they can fall from first to third overnight. The same will soon be true with their standing in the National League West.

The team has unforeseen assets in the rotation. Hazen already juiced the lineup with the addition of Jon Jay, and his proactive nature has served Arizona well. He is a skilled trader and won’t sit idle.

But this team is a wicked conundrum. So capable yet so vulnerable. But recognize this: After all the injuries and adversity, it will be a momentous achievement if they are still atop the division at the All-Star Break. It will serve notice to an easily-distracted region of sports fans: Buckle up.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier