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Diamondbacks searching for answers amid historic mega-slump

Jesse Friedman Avatar
August 12, 2023
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo looks on from the dugout as the team trails the San Diego Padres at Chase Field.

We’re all going through something, but chances are the past six weeks have been kinder to you than they have to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By all accounts, players are putting in the work. Coaches are trying to secure every competitive advantage possible. The clubhouse is not in shambles. And yet, the Diamondbacks just keep on losing.

Since July 2, they have lost a league-worst 25 of their 32 games. In that timeframe — spanning 42 days — they have gone from leading the NL West by three games to trailing the third NL wild card team by three games. Their playoff odds, according to FanGraphs, have plummeted from 79.8 percent to 14 percent.

Entering Friday, they were the only team in the modern era (since 1900) to fall from 16 games over .500 to one game under .500 in the span of 31 games. The only MLB teams to do that prior to 1900 were the 1885 Providence Grays, the 1886 Louisville Colonels and the 1893 Brooklyn Grooms.

What is worse, they have few answers for why they have played like this or what they can do to fix it.

“The game is just not being very kind to us right now,” said Friday’s starting pitcher, Ryne Nelson, who was tagged for six runs over three innings in the team’s 10-5 loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday.

“Personally, I feel better than I ever have, and it’s just not quite showing up,” Nelson added. “My stuff right now feels really good. I know that’s probably hard to believe, but I feel very confident in myself in the way that I throw, and just have to do better.”

Nelson’s sentiment seems to be shared by many of his teammates, as well as manager Torey Lovullo. There is an air of mystery surrounding the Diamondbacks, like a trusty automobile that just stopped working one day and no one can seem to figure out why.

“It’s what makes professional sports so great, and then it just rips your heart out,” Lovullo said after a loss to the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 3, when the Slump was still in its relative infancy. “I don’t know what else to do. I want the guys to focus on the right things, relax and keep things simple.”

As of now, the Diamondbacks’ efforts are not translating.

Consider their course of events from the past week. On Sunday, they had Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen on the mound against Minnesota Twins lefty Dallas Keuchel, who was making his first major league start of the year after logging a 9.00 ERA over 42 innings in 2022 with three separate teams.

Despite netting 17 baserunners in the game and setting a franchise record with eight stolen bases, the Diamondbacks mustered only three runs. Those runs were enough to position newly acquired closer Paul Sewald for his first save opportunity, but he gave up a game-tying homer on his first pitch and a walk-off homer shortly thereafter.

Video of Minnesota Twins homers against Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald on Sunday.

On Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the D-backs’ offense was stagnant until the eighth inning, when they scored two runs to cut a 4-0 deficit in half. The Dodgers added a run in the top of the ninth against Miguel Castro, which ultimately proved to be the difference in a 5-4 loss for the Snakes.

Former Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta also seemingly robbed Carson Kelly of a two-run dinger earlier in the game. Had that gone for a homer, it theoretically would have swung the game in Arizona’s favor.

Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly is robbed of a two-run homer by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder David Peralta.

Wednesday’s game was a scoreless tie up until the eighth inning, when left-handed reliever Kyle Nelson entered the game for the D-backs with the bases empty, two outs and Freddie Freeman at the plate. The next four Dodgers hitters reached, including a go-ahead, two-run single by Peralta to give LA a 2-0 lead.

The Diamondbacks had several good scoring opportunities but were unable to capitalize, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. It was the third time the D-backs had been shut out in a span of 11 days.

The Diamondbacks did not get shut out by the Padres on Friday, but it was an uninspiring loss, nonetheless. A three-run homer by Tommy Pham did cut a 7-2 deficit to 7-5 heading to the ninth inning, but the Padres immediately got all three runs back against Scott McGough. The D-backs lost 10-5, their ninth straight defeat.

Diamondbacks outfielder Tommy Pham hits a three-run homer against the San Diego Padres in the eighth inning on Friday.

In this brutal 32-game span as a whole, the Diamondbacks have slashed .224/.302/.369 as a team. That works out to a .671 OPS, which ranks 28th in baseball in that timeframe.

On the pitching side, things have not been much better. The Diamondbacks have a 5.22 starting pitcher ERA since July 2nd, which ranks 25th in baseball. Their 6.25 bullpen ERA in that span is dead last in the league. In high-leverage situations, opposing hitters have teed off to the tune of a .329/.394/.695 batting line.

More recently, the D-backs’ offense has come into focus as a particular area of struggle. Since July 26, their pitching has ranked in the middle of the pack, but they have hit just .203/.281/.297 as a team, scoring 2.3 runs per game.

The general narrative seems to be that the league has made adjustments on some of the Diamondbacks’ young hitters. All-Stars Corbin Carroll and Geraldo Perdomo come to mind, in particular. Since July 2, Carroll has a .703 OPS and Perdomo has a .622 OPS.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo is only willing to take that explanation so far, however.

“If it’s a week, I believe in that,” Lovullo said on Wednesday. “But it’s gone on for a month. Something’s going on. Something has happened, and I don’t know what it is. We’re trying to figure it out.”

After Friday’s game, Lovullo expanded on what he would like to see from his hitters.

“I look for us to be a little bit more dynamic through the course of the at-bat,” he said. “Slug the pitch you’re looking for. If it’s not there, take it. Have the ability to have a two-strike approach. Have an all-field approach.

“When you create that dynamic aspect of your approach, you become unpredictable as a hitter and pitchers start to make mistakes. We’re slowly coming out of it, but we’re looking fairly similar day after day after day from an offensive standpoint. So, we’ve got to make some adjustments.”

Lovullo has expressed frustration with the team’s approach at the plate in recent days, including a comment about hitters being “satisfied with what was happening” on Tuesday when the Dodgers held them scoreless over the first seven innings of the game.

The Diamondbacks manager also did not mince words when discussing a particular defensive play in Tuesday’s game. It came in the fifth inning when Max Muncy hit a fly ball to center field with runners at the corners. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. cut in front of Corbin Carroll to make the catch, but he delivered a wild throw to home plate and D-backs infielders did not position themselves appropriately to field the throw.

“That is unacceptable because that is effort-related and focus-related,” Lovullo said. “We have covered that a thousand times.”

Outside of a few isolated moments such as that one, the D-backs’ struggles seem to be more a product of poor execution than poor preparation or effort.

Back in May and June, there were valid reasons to wonder if the D-backs were for real. They were outperforming several key underlying metrics. Their bullpen lacked depth. Options in the starting rotation after the top two guys were unproven.

Even so, going 7-25 in the span of six weeks is an unprecedented decline for any half-way decent baseball team.

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday at Chase Field.
Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly throws to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at Chase Field on Aug. 9.

This is only the fifth season in Diamondbacks history in which they have won seven or fewer games in any 32-game stretch. The others happened in 1998, 2004, 2016 and 2021. Not coincidentally, those are four of the six worst teams in franchise history by end-of-year record; none of them got to 70 wins.

With just over six weeks left in the season, this Diamondbacks team still has a chance to do much better than that. In fact, while their playoff odds pale in comparison to where they were last month, making the postseason is not at all unachievable.

“It gives everybody that glimmer of hope,” Merrill Kelly said after his start on Wednesday. “If we had performed the way that we did and we were sitting five to 10 games back from the wild card, I think it would be a little different of a situation in here. I hope that’s why the vibe or the atmosphere in here hasn’t really changed that much because we know that, even though as bad as we’ve played, we’re still very much in the mix.

“If we play good baseball, if we play D-backs baseball the rest of the way, we have, not only just a chance, but a very legitimate shot of making it to the wild card and making it the playoffs.”

The Diamondbacks still have time — 46 games of it, to be exact — but they will need to turn things around in a hurry. A three-game deficit is not insurmountable, but they do have two teams, the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds, standing between them and the third wild card spot, which is currently occupied by the Chicago Cubs.

When all is said and done, it will likely take 84 wins or more to nab that final wild card spot. To reach 84 wins, the D-backs would have to go 27-19 the rest of the way.

Given how the team has played over the past six weeks, that is an ambitious goal.

With his back against the wall, Lovullo has been speaking with trusted resources — both inside and outside the game — to get additional insight on how to turn things around in Arizona. It starts by asking a lot of questions.

“It’s what I do,” he said. “I’m on an information search to figure things out. It’s not going to just happen by me just shuffling cards and saying, ‘Here we go, just deal ‘em out, it’s going to be okay.’ There’s a way out of this. I just can’t figure it out yet.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on X

Top photo: Allan Henry/USA TODAY Sports

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