21 September 2012
Thursday afternoon's 6-5 loss to the Padres leaves the Diamondbacks 5.5 Games behind the Cardinals for the 2nd Wild Card slot, with just 13 games left to play. That means that making the playoffs in 2012 is just about an impossibility - if the Cardinals go 6-6 the rest of the way, the Diamondbacks will need to go 12-1 just to tie them. While there is always the hope that the Cards could collapse over the final two weeks, Arizona's situation is worsened because there are still three teams between the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals in the standings - the Brewers, Dodgers, and the Phillies. One week ago there was still hope, but seven more games have gone by and the D-Backs actually dropped one game further behind.
In many ways, Thursday's loss exemplified the problems the team has had throughout the season. Arizona had pulled to within one run heading into the 9th inning, and then loaded the bases with no outs. But Mike Jacobs, Adam Eaton, and Aaron Hill were all unable to bring in the tying run, and the season was probably lost. This highlights the biggest problem with the Diamondbacks this year - their clutch hitting was unusually bad. The team is now batting just .190/.259/.315 (.573 OPS) in "Late and Close" situations, compared to .257/.325/.417 (.742 OPS) overall. This .169 drop in OPS in L&C situations is the worst in the National League, and is probably the biggest factor in the team's 14-26 record in One-Run games.
The game also highlighted a second problem for the team all season - poor performance by the team's pinch hitters. Arizona pinch hitters are now batting .235/.277/.330 (.607 OPS) for the year, again much worse than the team's overall batting line. Unfortunately, that was to probably be expected, since the team never really planned to have any good hitters on the bench. The planned Opening Day bench was Willie Bloomquist (career .662 OPS), John McDonald (.606), Gerardo Parra (.729), Henry Blanco (.658), and Lyle Overbay (.792), with only the 35-year-old Overbay an above-average hitter for his career. Although the bench personnel changed frequently throughout the year, the team never really put together a good hitting group.
Thursday's game also continued what has been a disappointing performance by the team's young players. Many observers felt that young pitchers like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs would be ready to make significant contributions this year, but it didn't happen. Bauer made 4 starts in the Majors with a 6.06 ERA, and Skaggs made 6 starts with a 5.83 ERA. Both are still just 21 years old, so it's not really any cause for concern about their futures, but neither performed as well in the Majors as the team had hoped, especially when the Diamondbacks had traded away Joe Saunders.
The good news for the Diamondbacks is that they should enter the 2013 season with a solid starting rotation from the group of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, and Tyler Skaggs, with others like Daniel Hudson and Chase Anderson possibly able to help out later in the year. The bullpen should also be good, especially if J.J. Putz is brought back with David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, Matt Albers, and Matt Lindstrom. The area that needs help is probably the offense, and the continued rumors about a Justin Upton trade certainly don't help in that regard. But the poor clutch hitting in 2012 was probably just bad luck, and if that returns to normal levels, the Diamondbacks' main focus in the offseason should be finding an everyday shortstop and strengthing the bench. The Diamondbacks should definitely be back in the playoff hunt again in 2013.