Arizona Diamondbacks: The Rise and Fall

Flash back to 2016

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane back in 2016 when the Arizona Diamondbacks had a 69-93 record. They hadn’t been to the postseason since 2011. All hope seemed to have faded away from this team until management decided to make some expected moves. Manger Chip Hale was fired. Torey Lovullo was the man to step into those shoes to mixed reviews. The critics threw out opinions left and right, making comments like “This team will never be a playoff team again.” However, they were about to be in for an unexpected ride.

Lovullo helped turn a losing record into an amazing 93-69 record leading into the National League Wild Card in 2017. The Diamondbacks dominated the Rockies in the Wild Card but could not get past the Dodgers in the NLDS. Although they did not advance it was an amazing turnaround from their mini-playoff drought.

What happened in 2018?

Arizona Diamondbacks amidst a win drought 2018
Credit David Wallace/azcentral sports

Let’s look at a last year. Many saw that as “their year” and had high hopes for the club. They didn’t seem that far off to begin with. Arizona had taken over the NL West until tragedy hit in September where that first-place position slowly slipped away. Let’s flashback to that infamous series at Dodgers Stadium. It was the battle for first place winner takes over as the leaders of West. It was a moment a silence for D-Backs fans everywhere when Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp hit the walk off home run that landed the Dodgers back as division leaders. Sadly, 2019 wasn’t that much better for them. Some will say they peaked too soon, some will think they over-achieved. The problem is much simpler than that.

What happened to this team?

The real question is was it management or the bullpen that ruined the D-Backs race to postseason? Yes, their offense is not as great after losing players like J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Ender Inciarte. However, bullpen has been the reason behind this team’s failure. As an example, Brad Boxberger, Fernando Rodney and Archie Bradley have had great outings as closers, but also horrible ones. Pitching makes or breaks a team. In this case it broke them.

The bullpen as a whole, performed admirably in the ERA department, but if you look at the underlying statistics, that’s where the real downfall is. The relievers for this team struck out 22.8% of batters. That was good for 22nd in all of MLB. The bullpen had a WHIP of 1.34, which was 17th in the league. There was too much traffic on the bases, and it caused a lot of issues for this team.

Is the bullpen the cause of this downfall?

A bullpen as unstable as theirs is not reliable enough to keep a 1-run lead alive. Not having any flexibility like that makes it hard to get far during the regular season let alone the post season. If we think about the Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation there are two to three pitchers that can carry the team into victories. Pitchers like Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen and Alex Young fit this bill. The team felt so good about their starting pitching, they even dismantled it a little with the trade of Zack Greinke. The question becomes does having three quality pitchers even matter without the bullpen being able to back them up?

Yoan Lopez is a rookie who is still finding his rhythm when it comes to pitching. He didn’t strike out too many batters over his time with the big club, and he put a lot of runners on via the walk. That’s not a recipe for success.

Andrew Chafin is an aging veteran that has a 50/50 performance rate. Archie Bradley is the closer with one signature pitch and is the most dependable. A rebuild of their bullpen is necessary in order for Torey Lovullo to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title. The 2019 season shows that.

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