Josh Hader’s fastball zipped through the Chase Field shadows at 97 mph. Christian Walker swung and missed. A disappointing game – and a disappointing series – came to an end for the Diamondbacks.
In evaluating a weekend in which they dropped three of four to the Milwaukee Brewers – a series capped by a 7-4 loss on Sunday in which they blew a 4-0 lead – the Diamondbacks fell back on the length of the season. They noted how many games remain on the schedule. They talked about how quickly the standings could flip.
In many ways, they are right. But, in another way, they might be running out of time.
For the better part of a month the Diamondbacks have been playing games that were expected to define their season. With the trade deadline approaching, the team’s front office has been searching for clarity, waiting to see if its roster was worthy of enhancing before July 31.
First came a three-week run against National League West opponents before the All-Star break. The Diamondbacks went 8-10. Then there was a stretch against three contending teams to open the second half. They went 4-5.
Through it all, the Diamondbacks have not been buried in the wild-card race, an outcome borne more of charitable circumstances than their own play. But they also have not played like contenders, no matter how many times manager Torey Lovullo calls them a “special team” during his media sessions.
“I think now the way the playoffs are set up with both wild cards, you could argue (that we should be buyers),” Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley said. “Am I going to say we’ve earned that right? I mean, I don’t know. I think the talent is here. It’s just finding a way to make it work together.”
Through 100 games, the Diamondbacks are 50-50. They are 2 1/2 games out of the second wild card, tied with the surging San Francisco Giants and trailing the Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies.
With the next seven games coming against last-place clubs – they’ll host the Baltimore Orioles before traveling to face the Miami Marlins, teams on pace for 111 and 102 losses, respectively – the picture could change quickly. But that’s also assuming the Diamondbacks can find their stride, something they haven’t done in weeks.
It looked like they were at least going to salvage a split early Sunday afternoon. They scored four times in three innings off Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff, taking a 4-0 lead that seemed safe in the hands of left-hander Alex Young, who had been something of a rotation savior for the pitching-starved Diamondbacks.
Instead, things came unraveled in the fourth. The Brewers loaded the bases on two walks and a single, and Young grooved a 1-0 fastball that Tyler Saladino blasted to left for a game-tying grand slam. Young had given up two runs in his first four appearances combined. He gave up twice as many on one swing.
It was still tied at 4 when Diamondbacks reliever Yoan Lopez entered in the eighth, his third appearance in the four-game series and his fourth in the past six days. Two batters later, the Brewers had a lead, as Keston Hiura tripled off the wall in left and scored on Mike Moustakas’ single. Lopez allowed two more before the inning ended, taking the loss for the second time in the series.
The Diamondbacks’ bullpen allowed 16 runs in 14 1/3 innings in the series. After Hader closed out Sunday’s game, the Brewers’ pen had allowed just three runs over 18 2/3 innings.
“I’ll be the first to say we haven’t pitched well down there, especially myself,” said Bradley, whose performance actually was a bright spot in the series. “It’s been tough, watching us lose some of those in-between games, night in and night out. That’s rough to swallow. I think every one of us will step up and … take the blame. We’ve just got to play better. We’ve got to pitch better.”
It remains to be seen how much more time they’ll have to do that. General Manager Mike Hazen seemingly will have to decide whether to buy or sell at some point in the next week. He’ll also have to decide how much he believes in a team that can’t seem to divorce itself of the .500 mark.
“We’re still a quality baseball team,” Lovullo said. “We just have to figure out a way to win those little moments. …
“We’ve got to turn the page and get ready for (the Orioles). It’s frustrating, it’s extremely frustrating, but we’ve got to find a way to come out tomorrow and play our game.”