Time is running out for underperforming Diamondbacks to ‘flip the script’

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, left, takes the ball from relief pitcher Matt Andriese after he gave up a single to Colorado Rockies pinch-hitter Ryan McMahon in the seventh inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Denver.

DENVER – If May taught us anything, it’s that the Diamondbacks can go from looking like the worst team in baseball to a good one almost overnight, so it’s perhaps wise to wait before breaking out the shovels. But things are not looking good for their postseason chances.

The Diamondbacks’ roster is filled with stoic optimists, players who do not believe in the idea of momentum or urgency, who see no benefit in panic. They aim for a six-month approach of unwavering mental consistency, regardless of how absurd their postgame comments can sometimes sound.

But after getting crushed 13-2 by the Colorado Rockies on Monday night, even the Diamondbacks seemed willing to start facing facts. The season is slipping away from them, time is running out and if they don’t start playing better right away, they will find themselves buried in the National League West.

They are only 3 1/2 games out of first, but the third-place Diamondbacks entered Tuesday in an awful stretch. They had lost 12 of their past 17 games and still had another 15 consecutive games left to play against contending teams.

Even manager Torey Lovullo seemed to suggest that he knew the outlook was grim when, after Monday’s loss, he noted that “crazier things have happened,” as if the Diamondbacks were eight games back with 10 to play.

It’s no surprise things have gone south with as many leaks as the Diamondbacks’ roster has sprung lately. It’s hard to begin anywhere else besides with the bullpen, a unit that has been a wreck since the start of September.

Of course, just about every team is running into bullpen issues this time of year, what with so many relievers tired from overuse. But the Diamondbacks’ issues are, in some ways, their own doing.

Only four pitching staffs in baseball have faced more hitters than the Diamondbacks in close-and-late situations. Only three teams have faced more hitters in high-leverage situations.

With all of those pressure-packed moments – with all of those outings in which a single mistake could decide a game – is it any surprise the Diamondbacks’ bullpen has hit a wall in recent weeks?

“This is not an excuse by any stretch of the imagination – we need to get the job done – but when you win more games on the road than at home you play more innings,” General Manager Mike Hazen said. “And the amount of close games we’ve been in all year, you end up using a subset of your bullpen a lot more than you may otherwise. I think that ends up adding up at some point to the workload that these guys have to haul.”

It didn’t help that the Diamondbacks refused to budge from their bullpen roles, particularly that of Brad Boxberger. In removing him from the closer’s role after Sunday’s blown save against the Braves, Lovullo might have waited a week too long.

Of course, the overabundance of close games almost certainly is a byproduct of the club’s underperforming offense. For stretches earlier this season, their struggles were almost understandable. Paul Goldschmidt had a slow start; A.J. Pollock missed seven weeks with a fractured thumb; Jake Lamb and Steven Souza Jr. both missed time with injury.

But the recent results are harder to excuse. Lamb is gone, but he’s been replaced by a veteran in Eduardo Escobar, and yet the Diamondbacks still can’t score enough to win. Since July 28, the day Escobar debuted following a trade, the Diamondbacks have scored 162 runs, ranking 23rd in the majors.

“We need to flip the script and take a hold of these games when we have the opportunity to do so,” Hazen said. “The good thing is, watching this team on the inside and watching them stay together and watching them day after day get after it and play hard, it gives you a lot of confidence on what the potential might be. But the potential doesn’t get you in the playoffs.”

This much is certain: With series remaining against the Astros, Cubs, Rockies (again) and Dodgers, if the Diamondbacks do end up in the postseason, they’ll have earned it. And if they’ve done that, it probably means they’re clicking, and if they’re clicking, they’d probably be dangerous in October in a weak league.

But they are a long way from there. And even they seem to realize that.

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