PHOENIX — If there were one thing the Diamondbacks couldn’t afford to let go to waste Wednesday afternoon it was a quality outing from its scuffling starting rotation.
While Brandon McCarthy’s performance fell one out shy of an official "quality start," it was the exact kind of effort the D-backs needed from him — the kind that could have helped them avoid a sweep at the hands of the Mets — but they failed to capitalize, losing 5-2 and setting a new franchise low.
"Mac threw good enough to win that game," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We played poorly. We continue to play poorly."
The loss was the D-backs’ sixth straight, giving them a winless homestand, eight straight losses at Chase Field and the worst start to a season in franchise history at 4-14 — one game worse than in the inaugural 1998 season. As many losses have lately, it left the D-backs searching for answers.
"I don’t know what we’re in need of besides playing better baseball," McCarthy said. "An exorcism or something. We’ve crossed into that bad side.
"Obviously morale is low, and you’ve got a team fighting and doing everything they can to get out of it, but we just can’t seem to get out of it really in any sense. I don’t know what it will take, but right now we’re soul searching."
McCarthy’s performance was one of very few positives to come out of Wednesday. Knowing he had to go at least 100 pitches no matter what to spare a taxed bullpen, McCarthy went 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out five.
"I wasn’t sharp, but I felt like it was at least what I set out to do," McCarthy said. "I can throw better, execute a few more pitches. But the way we’ve been going it’s just try to go as deep as you can, minimize damage and just get something to slowly turn."
One more out would have given McCarthy just the third quality start by a D-backs starter this season. When McCarthy exited, the D-backs had managed one hit off Mets starter Dillon Gee.
As much as the D-backs’ issues have been related to the staring rotation, which owns the worst ERA in the majors, Wednesday was a total offensive failing until Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt hit back-to-back solo home runs in the ninth inning.
"These last couple weeks it hasn’t gone our way as a whole," Goldschmidt said. "That’s what happens when you’re losing — you’re not putting it together. We’ve made mistakes defensively, base running, pitching, hitting — all around. We haven’t really put it together except for a few games, and when you do that you’re going to lose."
Seeing as how the Mets outscored the D-backs 21-5 in the three games, offense woes were not limited to the series finale. They were simply amplified by the fact they came alongside a desperately needed performance from the day’s starting pitcher.
And with each loss, the D-backs’ poor start is amplified. No other team in the league entered the day with double-digit losses and the D-backs left it with 14. After an off day Thursday, they face seven games on the road, starting with three against the Dodgers, who already beat the D-backs five times this season.
Even if things begin to turn slowly, the D-backs have dug themselves a monumental hole. The greatest battle in such a woeful start may be one of morale and mental endurance.
"You get worn down mentally when you’re not performing well by yourself," McCarthy said. "When the whole team is doing it and everybody around you is in that same boat and the team isn’t winning and nothing positive is happening you don’t really have anything to hang onto.
"It does carry over, and it’s an extreme mental battle now to just try to minimize things as much as we can and focus on the small things we can control, which is what we’re all doing. Hopefully it turns itself soon."
Joe Thatcher seems to have quietly rediscovered the form that made him such an effective lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Thatcher’s last three appearances have been just a third of an inning each, but all three were key strikeouts, including Wednesday with two outs and runners on second and third in the sixth inning.
13 — games the D-backs have lost this season when their opponent scored first. They have one win this season when giving up a run first.
— The D-backs seem to have a stolen base problem. D-backs catchers are now 1 for 19 throwing out runners. The Mets stole four bases Wednesday, and on the fourth Miguel Montero’s throw allowed the runner to advance and score later in the at-bat.
— Reliever Addison Reed’s ninth-inning error proved costly. Reed fielded an easy comebacker but overthrew first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, allowing Eric Young Jr. to get all the way to third base and late score.
— Aaron Hill’s ninth-inning home run was his first of the season. Paul Goldschmidt followed with a homer of his own, his third, to give the D-backs back-to-back home runs for the first time this season.
— Infielder Eric Chavez suffered a jammed pinkie finger Sunday after sliding into second base. The injury prevented him from swinging a bat Monday, but he was able to pinch hit Tuesday and again Wednesday.
Gibson said it would be a "good guess" that outfielder Cody Ross will join the team off the disabled list on Friday. He then indicated the team won’t keep an extra reliever when Ross returns, meaning a reliever will have to be designated for assignment, as no reliever has minor league options remaining.