August report card: D-backs struggle at plate
SEP 01, 2012 11:16a ET
The D-backs opened the month by bullying the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium and closed it by doing the same thing, spoiling Vin Scully bobblehead night in the process.
If only the rest of the month had been as rewarding.
The D-backs began the month poised to rush the NL West, getting within two games of the division lead after a three-game sweep in the Elysian Fields that ended Aug. 1.
They ended the month facing what's essentially a do-or-die road trip that began in Los Angeles after a 2-8 homestand that included sweeps by San Diego and Cincinnati. It was the D-backs' worst homestand since the 2004 team went 0-11 immediately after the All-Star break.
That's not the type of comparison a team wants to be making as it pushes toward a title defense.
August was the D-backs’ second losing month of the season, 13-16, and about every phase was affected.
The D-backs did not hit well, scoring only 109 runs. Other than the oasis that is Houston, where they scored 23 runs in a three-game sweep, the offense averaged just under three runs a game.
The pitching staff kept opponents under four runs per game, continuing a season-long trend and remaining near the National League average, but when the offense cannot get there ... the D-backs scored two or fewer runs 11 times in August, and the D-backs won only two of those games.
“We are just not manufacturing,” manager Kirk Gibson said. There is not a lot or margin for error with the way we are swinging the bats, but you know you can always come out of it. You go through periods like this."
The manufacturing issue will be subject for the offseason. Do the D-backs trade an outfielder not only to fill a perceived gap at shortstop but also to find room in the lineup for table-setter and consummate leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, the Pacific Coast League most valuable player?
That is for later. There is one charge entering September.
“We need to put the pedal on the gas,” Gibson said.
Offense: D. As dominant as the D-backs’ offense was in July, the team hit a collective dry spell in August. The team's batting average (.221) and on-base percentage (.281) were the worst in the league, and the OPS (.657) bettered only the Mets and Astros. Kubel suffered a particularly frustrating month, hitting .159 in 88 at-bats. He had five homers, including the game-winner against the Dodgers in the 11th inning Friday, and continues to lead the D-backs in homers and RBIs. After making a splash in the first 10 days following his trade-deadline acquisition from Houston, Chris Johnson hit .208 for the month, and third base was turned into a platoon with Ryan Wheeler in the middle of the month. After reteurning from Houston on Aug. 20, the D-backs were 7 for 62 (.113) with runners in scoring position.
Defense: C. Aaron Hill continued his steady play at second base, and seeing both Hill and the Reds' Brandon Phillips on the same field the last week of the month was enough to give aficionados of the glove a thrill. Teams have all but stopped running against catcher Miguel Montero, who has thrown out 45 percent of runners attempting to steal off him.
Starting pitching: C. Ian Kennedy and rookie Patrick Corbin won three games apiece in August, and Kennedy had four quality starts. He had one of his most effective outings of the season Thursday, giving up two hits in 6 1/3 innings, and a few more outings like that could go a long way in stabilizing the rotation. For voters who appreciate starting pitching, Wade Miley went a long way toward winning the NL Rookie of the Year award with four quality starts and a 2.30 ERA among his five appearances, dropping his season ERA to 2.85. Trevor Cahill was winless in his six starts, although it was not all his fault. He got little help in his two quality starts on the road but had no luck at home, giving up 12 earned runs in 15 innings at Chase Field.
Relief pitching: A. With closer J.J. Putz large and in charge while shepherding his flock, the bullpen has remained one of the elite units in the league. Setup men Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez and closer Putz equates to good morning, good afternoon, good night. Ziegler, a sidearm specialist, is to right-handed hitters what a guy like Javier Lopez is to lefties: their worst nightmare. Ziegler worked an NL-high 17 games in August and was scored on twice, both times when the D-backs already were behind. He induced four more double-play grounders, bringing his season total to 15, a major league high for relievers. David Hernandez was scored on once in 14 appearances, and he struck out 21 in 13 2/3 innings while permitting eight hits. No non-starter struck out more. Putz was 9 for 9 in save opportunities.
Management: General manager Kevin Towers made the right moves at the July 31 trading deadline, refusing to budge when teams attempted to plunder their pitching-rich farm system. It is hard to imagine an available -- available -- starter who would have added more to the rotation than Patrick Corbin, recalled Aug. 1. The D-backs got what appear to be minor parts for Joe Saunders and Stephen Drew, but those trades were inevitable. The D-backs were not going to let Drew and Saunders finish the season here and lose them with no compensation to free agency over the winter. That they saved $3 million-$4 million also helped, but it was not the driver, and the deals hardly signaled surrender. The small-market D-backs always must pay attention to the bottom line, having received little attendance bump this season despite their 2011 division title. Towers all but said Friday that the D-backs will pick up J.J. Putz’s $6.5 million option for 2013, keeping a strong unit intact.
Player of the month: Closer J.J. Putz has not been used as much as he was when he anchored the bullpen with a career-high 45 saves in 2011 because the opportunities have not been as prevalent, but he has been every bit as effective. Putz decided to scrap the cut fastball that he worked to add this spring because it seemed to harm his other pitches, and since then has been as close to untouchable as any closer in the league. Putz tied Brandon Lyon’s franchise record with his 24th consecutive scoreless appearance Friday, when he also recorded his 19th straight save. He was 0.00 with nine saves in 12 2/3 innings in August, striking out 15 and giving up only nine base runners. It does not get much more door-slamming than that.
Positive developments: It is hard to overstate the impact that rookies Skaggs and Corbin have made on the starting rotation since joining, Corbin on Aug. 1 and Skaggs on Aug. 22. Not only have they kept the D-backs in the games they have started, they also provide a glimpse into the future of the starting rotation. Most teams would kill for a quality left-hander in the rotation. With Miley, the D-backs have three. Chris Young has begun to hit again; for all the noise about his struggles, he still has 14 home runs, and his two-run homer beat the Dodgers on Thursday. Justin Upton also looks more comfortable at the plate and is pulling the ball again.
Sore spots: The back injury in late July that has frustrated shortstop Willie Bloomquist to the disabled list came at just the wrong time, as the D-backs were attempting to trade Drew. They finally pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Drew to Oakland after a couple of weeks of waiting, but they have received little at shortstop in the meantime. Jake Elmore, a productive No. 2 hitter at Class AAA Reno, is going through an adjustment period in his first trip to the majors while getting a long look at shortstop. His best position might be second base. Elmore hit .182, while John McDonald was 2 for 22.
The month ahead: The unbalanced schedule creates the kind of in-fighting that the D-backs need to make up the ground they must. They play 26 of 28 September games in the division, stating with the conclusion of a four-game series this weekend with two games against the Dodgers -- including their first meeting against former Red Sox malcontent Josh Beckett, and play division-leading San Francisco nine times. The Giants are not the same without drug cheat Melky Cabrera, who can still win the NL batting title, by the way, because he already has so many plate appearances. The first three against the Giants mean the most; the D-backs cemented their hold on first place in AT&T Park by winning a series there last Labor Day weekend. Winning the one that starts Labor Day is a must to make the remaining series against them (Sept. 14-16 at Chase Field and Sept. 25-27 at AT&T Park) relevant. Mixed in are six games against the Rockies, six against the Padres and three against the Cubs.