Diamondbacks lamenting September swoon after strong start

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              FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2018, file photo, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo wipes his brow during a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks were in contention for a second straight playoff appearance late into the season. A late collapse knocked them out of the race and may have put them at a crossroads. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File)
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PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Diamondbacks opened the season with the NL’s best record in April and stayed near the top of the NL West most of the season, leading the division at the beginning of every month.

A September swoon knocked them quickly out of contention.

Plagued by bullpen blowups, untimely hitting slumps and a bit of trying too hard, the Diamondbacks finished a once-promising season 82-80. Arizona had a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08, but finishing nine games back in the NL West was not what the Diamondbacks had in mind after ending a five-year playoff-less streak last season.

“We’re not where we need to be right now, clearly,” Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen said Monday. “There were certainly some good things that happened this season, but it wasn’t what we envisioned in terms of what our goals were. Our goal was to go out and compete for a World Series championship and we didn’t do that.”

Despite a string of injuries to key players and a couple of summer slumps, Arizona entered September with a one-game lead in the NL West. The Diamondbacks opened the month with three straight losses and finished it 8-19 to drop out of playoff contention.

Arizona’s bullpen, reliable most of the season, went into a funk in September, blowing numerous leads. The Diamondbacks’ lineup went flat, producing most of its runs in early innings before going quiet late in games.

And, as the pressure built, the Diamondbacks seemed to try too hard to get that big hit or out, often digging the hole even deeper.

“When you try so hard to get something and you can’t reach it, it just ends up backing up on you,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said.

Now the Diamondbacks face a decision: Rebuild or retool slightly.

Arizona certainly needs to make changes and could potentially lose two key players in left-hander Patrick Corbin and outfield A.J. Pollock to free agency. The Diamondbacks have to decide if they’re only a couple players away from being contenders again or overhaul the roster.

“We need to objectively look at what our circumstances are, what the landscape’s going to be, where we feel like the talent is going to be on our roster, what we can do conceivably to make moves to improve our roster,” Hazen said. “Clearly, we need to improve our roster.”

Other things to know about the Diamondbacks’ season:

MAGADAN OUT

The Diamondbacks mutually agreed to part ways with hitting coach Dave Magadan on Monday, ending his three-year stint in the desert. Arizona was one of baseball’s worst-hitting teams at .235 this season and has dropped its average each of the past three seasons. The rest of Lovullo’s staff will remain.

INJURIES

The Diamondbacks had more than their fair share of injuries.

Right-hander Taijuan Walker, a member of the opening day rotation, made three starts before needing season-ending Tommy John surgery. Starting third baseman Jake Lamb had season-ending shoulder surgery in early August. Pollock, fellow outfield Steven Souza Jr. and left-hander Robbie Ray each had stints on the DL.

CORBIN AND POLLOCK

Corbin was an All-Star and Pollock has put up big numbers when he’s been healthy. The Diamondbacks may not be able to afford either. Corbin is coming off his best season, going 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA while logging 200 innings for the second time in his career. He will be one of the top free-agent targets for teams this offseason. Pollock hit 21 home runs in an injury-plagued 2018 season and was an All-Star in 2015. Arizona will have two big holes to fill if both leave.

GOLDSCHMIDT’S SEASON

All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had another productive season, finishing with 33 homers and 83 RBIs while hitting .290. But the year didn’t start or end well for him. Goldschmidt had an abysmal first two months of the season and, after a big rebound, closed with a thud, going 7 for 41 with 18 strikeouts over the final 12 games. Goldschmidt, Arizona’s best and most popular player, enters the final year of his contract in 2019, so the Diamondbacks face a big decision.