With some terrible teams, it’s fascinating to go through all the varied and excruciating ways in which they lose games. The 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks are not such a team. Unlike, say, the most recent Houston Astros teams, Arizona hasn’t been competitive during games, then given them away with awful defense, a miserable bullpen or poorly-timed baserunning gaffes. Instead, they’ve fallen behind early thanks to miserable starting pitching, and few of the games that have gotten away from them have ever come back within their reach.
No, what’s fun about the Diamondbacks is trying to answer the question: How are they not worse than 6-18? They’ve been outscored by 60 runs in 24 games, and while that technically suggests a record of 7-17, it feels like they ought to be worse. Let’s go through their six wins, one at a time. You’ll see what I mean.
Win No. 1: April 1, v. San Francisco, 5-4
Wade Miley allows four first-inning runs, and needs 29 pitches to get out of the frame, but shuts the Giants down thereafter. The Diamondbacks chip away, finally taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth, then hold off the visitors’ charges in each of the final three innings. In the seventh, Brandon Crawford doubles with Brandon Belt on first base, but Belt stops at third and dies there. Another double goes to waste in the ninth.
Win No. 2: April 6, at Colorado, 5-3
A two-run two-base error gives the Diamondbacks the early lead, and Wade Miley adds another run with a single. A Mark Trumbo homer extends the lead (see, it’s not just when the other team flubs the ball or grooves one to the pitcher that Arizona can score), but the Rockies aren’t beaten yet.
Sacrifice flies in the middle innings bring them within three, and then, in the bottom of the ninth, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki lead off the inning by reaching base. Gonzalez tries to take second base after his leadoff hit, a normal part of ninth-inning offense when the runner is not the tying run. Instead of conceding the base, though, Miguel Montero throws the ball into center field. After Tulowitzki walks, Wilin Rosario comes to bat as the tying run. Alas, he bounces into a double play, effectively killing the Rockies’ rally.
Win No. 3: April 9, at San Francisco, 7-3
The only easy, conventional win in the bunch. Gerardo Parra and Paul Goldschmidt go deep.
Win No. 4: April 10, at San Francisco, 6-5 in 10 innings
The Giants commit three errors. The most costly, by far, comes in the top of the eighth inning, when (with runners on first and second) a weak ground ball to third base turns into the tying run. (Pablo Sandoval throws it away, allowing Gerardo Parra to score.)
In the bottom of the eighth, the Giants get a double and a walk to lead off the inning, bunt those runners over (bunting with the go-ahead run in scoring position is not a great play), then load the bases with one out after the Diamondbacks intentionally walk Angel Pagan to face Brandon Belt. (Yes, really.) Belt is unable to muster a deep enough fly to score the runner, and Pablo Sandoval flies out to deep right to end the frame. Arizona wins in the 10th.
Win No. 5: April 18, at Los Angeles, 4-2 in 12 innings
A taut and well-played game early devolves into something else late. With the score tied 1-1, Miguel Montero leads off the top of the ninth with a walk. Pinch-runner Tony Campana scores on a stolen base-groundout-wild pitch sequence, as Chris Withrow (totally the guy who should be in in a tied game in the ninth, good job, good effort Don Mattingly) entirely loses it.
In fact, Withrow walks Martin Prado on four pitches, putting a runner back on the bases in the same at-bat during which he cleared them by allowing Campana to come in. Withrow throws another wild pitch to send Prado to second, part of a second straight four-pitch walk, this one to Chris Owings. Mattingly goes to his bullpen, this time Brandon League, who escapes, but the damage is done.
Addison Reed comes on to save it, and gets four straight fly balls from the Dodgers. Alas, the second one leaves the park. Tie game.
In the top of the 10th, Arizona puts runners on first and second with one out, thanks to an infield single and catcher’s interference, but a double play kills the rally. Finally, in the 12th, breakthrough: A double and hit batsman set up a two-run Aaron Hill single.
Win No. 6: April 23, at Chicago, 7-5
This is the granddaddy of them all. Trailing late? Check: the Cubs lead 5-2 after six. Need help from the opponents’ defense? Check: a mishandled would-be double play ball leads to their first run, and Starlin Castro commits an error in the beginning-to-middle of Arizona’s ninth-inning rally. Wild closer on the mound? Check: Pedro Strop’s first six pitches all miss the zone, most of them by very wide margins.
Specifically, here’s what happens. Chicago leads 5-2 as the top of the ninth begins. Strop walks the lead-off man and nearly does the same for Tony Campana, but Campana (with no power, not representing the tying run) swings at a 3-1 pitch. For a moment, it could be a double play. Then Starlin Castro bobbles it. Then he fumbles for second base. By the time he’s done botching things, both runners are safe.
Another walk, then a strikeout, then another ground ball up the middle. Who knows what it might be if it doesn’t hit second base. A fielder’s choice seems most likely. As it is, it caroms off the base and into right field. One-run game.
Another strikeout, and a new pitcher. Pedro Strop throws 31 pitches, allowing plenty of time for his emergency relief to warm up, but at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat, James Russell still allows Montero to single, tying the game.
Another new pitcher, Justin Grimm this time. Aaron Hill floats a ball from Grimm down the right-field line. It’s probably uncatchable, but Justin Ruggiano, the right fielder, doesn’t even come close. He’s injured on the play, and in the time it takes for an infielder to run the ball down, Montero scores from first. The Cubs, defeated, go in order to end it in the bottom of the ninth.
Some of the occurrences described here aren’t as wild or rare as they may seem. This piece is, in part, about the fragility of every win, by every team. Still, the Diamondbacks have found some creative ways to pull out some seemingly lost games, often relying as much on opponents losing focus or control as on their own talent. It’s hardly surprising that they’ve lost so many, since they seem to need so much help (or good luck) to win.Next post: Power Rankings: A Word Per Game Played
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