D-backs' recovery is all about the pitching
JUN 02, 2014 5:19p ET
The reason is not difficult to pinpoint. The D-backs' pitching, especially from the stating rotation, was a lot better in a 14-13 May than during a 9-22 March/April. The D-backs had a 3.65 ERA team in May, shaving 1 1/2 runs off their season total.
With the starting pitchers in more of a groove, the games have regained a sense of normalcy. Bullpen roles are stabilized. Hitters do not have to feel like they need a big inning to stay in games. The defense can be content with the making the routine play instead of trying to force extra outs.
"You ride behind your pitchers," center fielder A.J. Pollock said. "That sets the tone for the team. Good or bad, hitting is a streaky thing. If you can keep a team in a game consistently, which our pitches have done lately, it has really kept us fighting and competitive. It's huge.
"You can manage the game. You just play real fundamental baseball, and that's what we try to do. That is a staple for our team. You don't feel like you need a huge inning. You just need to scrap and play small ball and get the one or two runs because you get confidence from what your pitchers are doing. We've cleaned up our defense a little bit, and I think a lot of that has to do with the pitching."
That being said, the D-backs' pitching must get better if they can realistically expect to continue an upward trajectory necessitated by their 8-22 start. The D-backs trail the Giants, who have a 3.02 team ERA this season, by a season-high 15 games. The sliver of light at the end of the tunnel is that the D-backs (23-36) are a much more manageable 7 1/2 games out of a wild card berth, although they must hurdle an entire league's worth of contenders to be part of that conversation.
Although the recent homestand ended on a sour note with three straight losses to Cincinnati, the D-backs will head to the flight path that is Coors Field for a three-game series against Colorado that beings Tuesday on a nice run.
Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miley made four quality starts apiece in May. Chase Anderson, who will start Tuesday's game in Denver, has won all three of his starts since being called up May 6. Josh Collmenter, a most pleasant surprise since moving into the rotation to replace Randall Delgado in mid-April, gave up more than three runs in only one his five May starts, and in that game he gave up four.
The last time out, Collmenter faced the minimum 27 batters in a 4-0 shutout of Cincinnati, one of 13 pitchers since reliable stats were complied in 1914 to face the minimum while giving up three hits. Collmenter (4-2, 3.34) and Arroyo (4-4, 4.39), who will follow Anderson against the Rockies, have thrown the D-backs' two complete games this season. At 1.08, Collmenter ranks 10th in the NL in WHIP (walks and hits per nine innings). Arroyo had a 2.49 ERA in May after finally feeling right following back issues in spring training.
To take the next step back to respectability, the D-backs will need better work from Brandon McCarthy (1-7, 5.20 ERA) and Miley (3-6, 4.85), who have combined to give up 25 homers. Their resumes indicate that is possible, but the results so far have been frustrating.
"There is some solidity to it, for sure," Collmenter said of the rotation's recent efforts. "Like hitting is contagious, pitching is contagious, and that's what we want to get going here. One guys takes the ball and gives us a good start, and you hand it on to the next guy. We've kind of got on a little roll."
Dependability in the bullpen has followed. Because of more productive starts, manager Kirk Gibson has been able to slot his relievers into roles rather than basing his choices on availability due to workload.
The D-backs' relievers have a 1.83 ERA in the last 2 1/2 weeks, third-best in the majors. Closer Addison Reed converted eight of his nine save opportunities in May. Brad Ziegler was scored upon only twice in 14 May appearances. Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez gave up only one run in May. Evan Marshall and Trevor Cahill gave up two.
"It helps a lot, because we see when we give up three runs we know they are going to keep it right there for us to come back and win a ball game," catcher Miguel Montero said.
"That's what we've been feeling. It is the opposite of early in the year. They would score three and we feel like we need to score a lot, because they are probably going to score a little bit more than three. We know our pitchers are going to keep us there now."
The D-backs are in the middle of the pack in runs scored, but that is less an indicator of success than pitching. The Giants were 17th in the majors in runs when they won the World Series in 2010, 12th when they won it again in 2012.
"As soon as the staff started pitching better, we turned it around," third baseman Eric Chavez said. "We're not a juggernaut, but we're good enough to score enough runs to win. The guys are pitching better, so we're playing better. It's a pretty simple formula."