D-backs limp to finish after strong start
The Arizona Diamondbacks played more baseball during the regular season than any team in history, logging nearly nine full games in extra innings.
It may have left them too tired to finish the job.
The NL West leader at the All-Star break, the Diamondbacks limped to the end thanks to 25 extra-inning games, a string of injuries and inconsistency in nearly every area except defense.
''We had some tough times in the middle of the season and they were grinding that out,'' Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. ''We had multiple blown saves in certain games. That took a lot out of us. As we got toward the end of the year, guys were a bit worn down from grinding it out a lot, but they did stick together.''
The Diamondbacks went into the season with a healthy dose of expectations, figuring to make a run back to the postseason after winning the NL West title in 2011.
Owner Ken Kendrick boosted the payroll to around $90 million and general manager Kevin Towers had an active offseason, adding All-Star third baseman Martin Prado, infielder Eric Chavez and right-hander Brandon McCarthy while giving the bullpen a makeover.
Paul Goldschmidt and Arizona lived up to the projections early in the season, leading the division for most of the season's first half. Once the All-Star break rolled around, the Los Angeles Dodgers surged and the Diamondbacks had no answer, gradually drifting farther behind their high-spending Southern California rivals.
Arizona finished 81-81 for the second straight season, 11 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and nine games from an NL Wild Card playoff spot.
''Disappointment, really, because our expectations have been very high,'' Towers said. ''They have been since Gibby and I have been together, since 2011. We fully expect to be in the postseason each year and the last two years we have been .500.''
The Diamondbacks certainly were gritty.
As it did last season, Arizona had a knack for pulling out victories, rallying to win 42 times, including 33 victories in their last at-bat that led to what became increasingly messy dirt-bath celebrations. The Diamondbacks won 16 of their extra-inning games and ended up playing 1,538 innings - 80 in extras - to break the major league record set by the 1964 Yankees.
The down side of those late rallies was what caused some it: Arizona had 29 blown saves, tying Houston for most in the majors.
''I think we have to take a long look at our bullpen,'' Towers said.
Of course, it wasn't just the bullpen.
The Diamondbacks were besieged with injuries, including extended DL stints by Chavez, second baseman Aaron Hill, catcher Miguel Montero, shortstop Willie Bloomquist, outfielders Adam Eaton and Cody Ross and left-hander Daniel Hudson's second Tommy John surgery in less than a year.
It didn't help that players they were counting on the have a big year didn't live up to expectations, including Montero, McCarthy, right-hander Ian Kennedy, who was traded to the Padres midseason, and right-hander Trevor Cahill.
''Do we have enough if everybody has good years? Possibly, but we will probably need a tad more,'' Gibson said. ''Pitching-wise it didn't work like we thought it would work out.''
It wasn't all bad.
Arizona was superb defensively, finishing fifth in the majors with a fielding percentage of .988.
Left-hander Patrick Corbin had a breakout second season, earning a spot in the All-Star and finishing with 14 wins with a 3.41 ERA despite a slight fade to end the season.
Then there was Goldschmidt.
An All-Star in 2012, the first baseman became a top contender for the NL MVP this season, hitting .302 with 36 homers, 125 RBIs - both NL highs - and 103 runs scored. Goldschmidt ended the season with a 19-game hitting streak, longest for Arizona since 2004, and was smooth with his glove as well, with a fielding percentage of .997.
''The year Corbin had and Goldy had were incredible,'' Towers said.
Despite finishing .500 for the second straight season, Towers, who's been known to be a dealer, isn't planning a major shake-up.
Arizona certainly needs to retool its bullpen, could use a power bat, maybe in the outfield, and could go after a starting pitcher.
Other than that, the Diamondbacks seem to be set with their roster, hoping some of the injured come back healthy and key players regain their form next season.
''I don't think we will make wholesale changes,'' Towers said. ''I think Gibby feels the same and I like the group of players we have here. I still think it is a team that can get 90 wins and 90 wins usually get you in postseason play.''
The Diamondbacks just need to find a way to get there.