PHOENIX — Kirk Gibson was asked to describe the season in one word.
“Can it be a number?” Gibson asked.
He was being semi-serious, but he was on point. The D-backs season can be summed up in one number: .500.
The D-backs were never more than four games over .500 in defense of their 2011 NL West title, and they were never more than five games under. They spent two days in first place, five in fourth and every one of the last 133 games in third place.
Right in the middle.
A “medium” season, one player called it.
The D-backs expected more. On the final day of the regular season, Chris Young said he still believes the D-backs have the best team in the division. But repeating is always harder than peating, and the D-backs were unable to duplicate the magic of their 94-win 2011 for a number of reasons.
Many will point to two obvious changes: an inability to overcome deficits, especially late in games, and an inability to win one-run games. The two have a lot to do with each other, for obvious reasons.
The D-backs had an MLB-high 48 comeback victories in 2011. They had 37 this year, a good number but about the league average. They were 28-16 in one-run games last year, the best percentage in the league. They finished 15-27 this year.
“Some people call it chemistry, but call it whatever you want. Baseball is just a game where things become contagious, whether it is winning, whether it is losing, whether it is hitting, pitching or defense,” D-backs shortstop Willie Bloomquist said.
“Last year we won a couple of games late, came back, and it became a contagious thing to where we just knew we were going to win, no matter what the situation. This year, for the most part, we didn’t get that spark or that extended run where we kind of caught fire. It’s not like we weren’t trying and searching for it. Everybody was trying to find it and be the guy that sparked the thing. It just never got to that point.
“To a man in here, guys are obviously disappointed in our season. It was a very lukewarm, mediocre year. We never got hot, we never got cold. We had bigger aspirations than that. We had bigger expectations. There is not a guy in here who does not feel we were a better team than our record indicated.”
Injuries, performance slippage and carelessness on the bases also contributed.
The D-backs refuse to use injuries as an excuse since every team gets them, but they lost several key players for extended stretches and had several others who played at less than 100 percent without making a big deal about it (Justin Upton, specifically).
Chris Young was fully healthy and in sync for 11 games. Daniel Hudson, a 16-game winner in 2011, made nine starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. Bloomquist, who had become a sparkplug atop the order, missed the final two months. Upton played four months with a thumb injury, although he did not make it public. Stephen Drew missed the first three months.
“You don’t want to use that as an excuse,” catcher Miguel Montero said, “but at the same time, they are a big part of the team. They are the core part of the team. To have those guys miss, it hurts.
“We have a good enough minor league system, and the guys they bring up to replace guys when they go down are very quality players as well. That’s the special thing we have here. But the jell and vibe that the team has … I think it does affect a team when guys go down and guys get hurt. It just changes things.”
Montero was one of the bright spots, following a career year in 2011 with another career year this season, made all the more special when he signed a five-year, $60 million contract in May. But after a clubhouse filled with career years in 2011, he was one of the few to repeat.
Ryan Roberts, whose walk-off, fist-pumping home run was the signature mark of the 2011 season, got off to a slow start and was traded, and third base was unsettled for most of the season. Upton was hurt. Ian Kennedy went from 21 victories to 16. J.J. Putz had a rough start before regaining his form.
While Aaron Hill as well as newcomers Jason Kubel, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley, especially, picked up some of the slack, the team dynamic was different.
“The numbers kind of bear out where we were deficient,” Gibson said.
In top starters Kennedy and Hudson, the D-backs had two stoppers capable of ending a losing streak in 2011. Miley developed into one this season, but the starters as a whole were less consistent, in part a function of youth. The starters’ ERA was 4.26, almost a half-point higher than a year ago and the highest among teams that finished .500 or better.
“Our starting pitching may be off a little from where it was last year, but it’s easy to see how and why. We sustained an injury that hurt us. Then we went with some youth,” Gibson said.
The D-backs also gave away too many outs on the bases. They had 93 stolen bases but were caught 51 times, a net gain of 42. They had 133 steals a year ago and a net gain of 78. Gibson wants an aggressive team, and he believes in putting pressure on an opponent, but the D-backs too often tried for an extra base that was not there.
“Terrible on the bases. Brutal. Have to be much better there. That falls on me,” Gibson said.
Montero also was asked to sum up the season in one word.
“Sucks,” he said.
“We didn’t play the game the right way. We didn’t the things we were supposed to do, that we were capable of doing. We weren’t able to click together. I wish I had a right answer. It’s just frustrating. Still trying to figure out what went wrong.”