When we last saw the Diamondbacks in Arizona, they looked like a baseball team capable of fulfilling a season-long promise to break out of an orbit around .500.
It was part of a stretch in which they won 11 of 13, went from 5½ games out of wild-card berth to 1½ and made us believe, for a few days, that maybe they were something more than incredibly average.
The Diamondbacks returned home Friday with plenty of woes: a five-game losing streak, 3½ games behind the Brewers and Cubs for the last wild-card spot, and a report that the bosses on the business side had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Las Vegas last year.
That’s more proof the notion that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is a lie. (We have the credit-card statements to prove it.)
That holds true with the Diamondbacks, who had a similar flirtation with neighboring Henderson. We don’t have the exact analytics on this, but the Diamondbacks have to lead Major League Baseball in non-disclosure agreements.
The Diamondbacks did accomplish something on Friday, however. They announced they had extended the contract of General Manager Mike Hazen, who had two years left on his first deal.
That put an end to speculation that Hazen would leave for the Red Sox, who fired Dave Dombrowski, their top baseball executive, last Sunday.
It’s a smart move by the Diamondbacks, and Hazen deserves to finish what he started, transitioning the franchise into a new era, one without their two top players, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and pitcher Zack Greinke.
There are several promising young players on the current big-league roster. The farm system is in the process of being restocked. Hazen clearly has a vision, and the Diamondbacks did the right thing by doubling down on a smart general manager with a vision.
They are positioned to contend for the next few years, just not for an NL West title. The Dodgers are loaded with young talent, so the Diamondbacks likely will be consigned to competing for a wild-card spot, unless baseball proves again to be a funny game.
For the Diamondbacks, it wasn’t so funny this year. They never captured our imagination. They were just kind of there. Every win streak that raised hopes was followed by a losing one that dashed them.
But a week ago, the Diamondbacks looked like they were more than that. They had just taken three of four from the first-place Dodgers, swept the Padres, then beat the Reds two out of three.
That kind of streak isn’t sustainable, but what can’t happen is what came next: the disastrous series against the Mets in which the Diamondbacks lost all four and were outscored by 22 runs.
It was reminiscent of last season when the Diamondbacks collapsed in September and went from first place in the division to out of the playoffs.
In both Septembers, Lovullo made decisions that backfired so badly he was left choking on the smoke.
Last year, it was the decision to have Archie Bradley pitch to Matt Kemp in consecutive games. The results contributed to the Diamondbacks losing three of four in Los Angeles and leaving town in third place.
This September, it was Lovullo’s decision to let Robbie Ray try to pitch through a blister on his finger. Midway through his pre-game warmup in the bullpen earlier this week, the skin on the middle finger of Ray’s left hand ripped off, which was problematic since Ray is left-handed.
Ray tried to pitch and gave up five runs in less than an inning, which begged the questions why Lovullo let Ray pitch at all, and then left him in as long as he did.
Lovullo knew Ray had struggled in the bullpen, yet stuck with him.
“I was going to give him that opportunity,” Lovullo said. “He deserved that right.”
Deserve, however, should have had nothing to do with it. Especially in September.
What’s deserved is for Lovullo to give his team its best chance to win. On that day, Ray was not it.
This is not to say Lovullo is a bad manager. He’s not. And this is not to say the Diamondbacks have been a failure in progress this season. They have not.
Lovullo has helped integrate young players into the lineup, including catcher Carson Kelly and outfielder Josh Rojas. Ketel Marte is a star in the making, Eduardo Escobar has been a bargain and right-hander Zac Gallen, obtained at the trade deadline, looks like a steal.
That’s acceptable, but to get there, the Diamondbacks have put an end to their flirtations. Stop talking to Las Vegas and its suburbs while telling us how committed you are to Arizona.
And break free from that summer romance of 2019, when you fell in love with being average.
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