D-backs' 'most crucial' stretch off to lousy start

BY foxsports • July 13, 2012

CHICAGO -- The sun was shining Friday when the Diamondbacks got to Wrigley Field, and it was shining when the first of three games with the Cubs went final. It's what happened in between that wasn't so sunny.

Between a lengthy rain delay, Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano's big day, Ian Kennedy's brutal start, Jason Kubel's tight hamstring and a 8-1 loss, Friday was not the kind of day the D-backs were looking for when manager Kirk Gibson characterized the coming stretch as his team's "most crucial" this season.

"We just didn't play good," Gibson said. "They kicked our butts in every aspect. We didn't execute any phase of our game. It was disappointing."

The D-backs wrapped up the first half last weekend by taking three of four games from the first-place Dodgers to enter the break four games back in the NL West. That momentum didn’t carry over, and it seems the first day of the final stretch brought nothing but bad news.

Prior to Friday's game, Gibson outlined the team's upcoming battle: 20 games without an off day, one day off, 10 games without an off day, another day off, then 23 games without a day off.

The last leg is likely to change to get in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement rule that mandates a team play no more than 20 consecutive games without a break; regardless, Gibson sees those 53 games as a possible make-or-break stretch.

"This is the most crucial part of our season so far," Gibson said.

Despite trade rumors swirling around right fielder Justin Upton, things seemed pretty good for the D-backs on Friday morning. The first turn came with word the start of the game would be delayed due to an approaching storm. That storm arrived in multiple waves with thunder and lighting, pushing first pitch back by 3 hours and 40 minutes.

The more serious troubles began was play had finally begun. The D-backs did take a 1-0 lead in the first inning and things didn't look so bad through four innings, but Kennedy fell apart in the fifth and sixth innings. Six runs on seven hits was more than enough to send Kennedy to his eight loss of the year. It didn't help that the offense managed just one run on seven hits against Cubs lefty Paul Maholm.

"You want to start off good after the All-Star break, and that's not how you should pitch in order to win a game," Kennedy said.

Soriano did most of the damage, collecting two home runs, two doubles and five RBI in his latest battering of the D-backs. Asked of his approach to Soriano, Kennedy said it didn't matter because he couldn't locate any of his pitches anyway, something that's become a trend this season.

"He's unable to throw his fastball where he wants to, and his secondary pitches he was able to throw very well last year when he got behind in the count, he's just unable to locate them," Gibson said. "He's a different pitcher right now."

If the D-backs are to emerge from this stretch in position to play past 162 games, they know Kennedy must pitch better. Kennedy knows too.

"It's really, really frustrating is all I can tell you," Kennedy said, "I'll feel good one outing, and I just don't know what happens. The next outing is just two completely different people.

"My bad starts are really bad. They're not like a couple runs here and there. That's unacceptable for me, I think."

With the D-backs trailing 7-1 in the seventh inning, the bad day got worse when Kubel left the game with a tight hamstring. Kubel said he slipped on the wet outfield grass in the second inning and tweaked his right hamstring.

"I was hoping as the game went on it would loosen up, get a little better, but it got a little worse," Kubel said. "It was a precautionary thing."

Though the injury appears relatively minor, even the possibility of a lingering issue for the D-backs' offensive leader has to be concerning. Kubel said he's not sure if he will be ready to play Saturday.

Friday's myriad issues didn't produce the worst day the D-backs have had this season, but it was undoubtedly a lousy way to start a battle for postseason position. The D-backs have 52 games left in their "most crucial" stretch, and one loss won't be the difference, but Friday's highlighted multiple issues that could be ongoing concerns.

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