The Diamondbacks did not so much lose on Saturday night as they refused to win. Star Paul Goldschmidt described his team’s 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves as an “amazing ballgame,” and while he’s right about the evening’s pure entertainment value, it was probably more amazing in ways other than what Goldschmidt intended.
Like in how poorly the Diamondbacks played defensively, committing four errors. Or in how haphazardly they ran the bases, first failing to advance 90 feet in the middle innings, then barreling toward home and ending the game with a brutal out at the plate.
“I don’t want to undersell the fact that we didn’t do what we were supposed to do today in a lot of key situations,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “That’s what we get used to doing here. When it doesn’t happen, it stands out.”
The loss was the Diamondbacks’ 10th in their past 15 games. At 76-66, they are in third place and 2 1/2 games back of the first-place Colorado Rockies in the National League West. They are two games back of the second wild card, and, just like in the division, they will need to leapfrog two teams.
That’s entirely possible, of course, but with 20 games remaining, the question is becoming how many more games the Diamondbacks can afford to lose. Too much of the season is left to know for sure, but they probably won’t need every finger on both hands to get to the answer.
Which is what makes losses like Saturday’s so hard to endure. It was a game they might have won easily were it not for any number of plays. Take your pick:
* Left fielder David Peralta was slow to get a base hit back to the infield in the first inning, not only allowing an aggressive Ronald Acuna Jr. to steal a run when he should have been held to third, but also letting Johan Camargo move to second. The Braves capitalized on that by manufacturing a second run.
* In the sixth, Peralta made another miscue, failing to tag from second on a Goldschmidt fly ball to the wall in right field. Clearly upset, Goldschmidt motioned and yelled in Peralta’s direction after the play. Peralta was ultimately stranded on second.
* In the 10th, Goldschmidt threw wildly to second after Freddie Freeman was caught leaving early off first base, allowing Freeman to advance safely on what was scored a stolen base.
* One batter later, Goldschmidt and pitcher Andrew Chafin not only couldn’t get an out on a tricky slow roller to the right side, but Goldschmidt’s feed got away from Chafin, allowing Freeman to score to the go-ahead run.
* Then there was the coup de grace to end the game, when Nick Ahmed was waved home by third-base coach Tony Perezchica on a ball that Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson kept on the infield with a diving stop. Swanson popped up, fired home and easily cut down Ahmed at the plate.
Where are you going? Diamondbacks trying to get their signals straight
“We mishandled a couple of things over the course of the night,” Lovullo said. “Today was not Arizona Diamondback baseball in several areas.”
And, yet, the Diamondbacks still almost won, and were it not for some bad fortune on some hard-hit balls in the late innings, they would have. They managed only five hits on the night but easily could have had at least three more.
Pinch-hitter Ildemaro Vargas’ liner with the bases loaded went directly at Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies to end the eighth. Peralta’s hard one-hopper in the ninth went right to Swanson with a man on third. Later that inning, Daniel Descalso’s screamer was tracked down by center fielder Ender Inciarte. All three balls would have driven home runs. All three went for outs.
“That was an amazing ballgame,” Goldschmidt said. “That was awesome. For the way they played, the way we played, that was fun. That’s how you should play. That was a lot of good entertainment for the fans. Of course, we would have liked to win, but I mean Swanson makes that play at the end, that’s an unbelievable play.”
It was, but the Diamondbacks’ defensive miscues were hard to overlook, especially since they represent the latest way the club has found to lose a game. Over the past week, the Diamondbacks have lost because of everything from an ice-cold offense to bullpen meltdowns, from risky baserunning gambles to questionable managerial decisions.
But the defense? By and large, that’s been the one thing that hadn’t failed them. This season, the Diamondbacks haven’t just been a good defensive team, they’ve been fantastic, a conclusion reached both via the eye test and advanced defensive metrics.
The Diamondbacks entered Saturday with 108 defensive runs saved, according to data available at FanGraphs. That’s the most runs saved in a year in the 16 seasons Baseball Info Solutions has been calculating that statistic.
The Saturday night performance led to questions about whether the Diamondbacks lacked focus or were playing tight, with the pressure of a pennant race weighing heavy on their minds. Lovullo didn’t see it that way, but on the Fox Sports Arizona broadcast, ex-manager Bob Brenly described them as playing “tight as a drum.”
“Sometimes poor focus leads to poor execution,” Lovullo said. “I don’t think that was the case today. We just got beat by a team that went out there and played aggressive baseball. They caught us, I’m sure, by surprise in some situations (in which) they out-executed us.”
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