As the regular season winds down, many teams are already facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next on the podium are our friends from AZ Snake Pit — Jim McLennan, John Baragosa and Charlie Gebow.
Comrades, this is a memorable, solemn day. It is just a year since our entrance into the NL playoffs. A year filled with events, giddy and historical developments. A year during which Diamondbacks players on the infield, outfield and pitcher's mound, fought heroically, mostly on the fronts of San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, October will see them, not continuing the struggle armed with bat and ball, but rather with golf club, hunting rifle or XBox 360 game controller, according to personal taste.
We came in as unexpected reigning champions, having improved our record by 29 games. The offseason had seen no major departures, and we'd acquired Jason Kubel and Trevor Cahill, so it seemed Arizona would be even better in 2012. There were concerns, of course, not least history, which showed that teams who improved by 20 or more wins, almost inevitably dropped back the following season, typically by about 11 games. Precedent? Who cares? We'd won the division by eight, over a San Francisco Giants outfit outscored by their opponents, and a Los Angeles Dodgers one with an uncertain future. Both were older than the Diamondbacks, and we anticipated nothing but improvement from our young roster.
Initially, it seemed that was exactly what we would get. We swept the Giants in the opening series, and went 7-3 to start the year. Then, in Game 11, Chris Young hit the wall. No, I mean, literally hit the wall. Batting .410 with five homers in 10 contests, Young was chasing a fly ball and collided with the outfield fence at Chase Field, injuring his shoulder. In his absence, the D-backs went 10-19, and after he came back, CY hit .205. Little did we know it at the time, but when Young went down, our season went down with it. However, that was far from the only problem for the 2012 Diamondbacks.Mistakes were made: Last year, the Diamondbacks went 32-20 in one-run games, mostly because they hit a league-best .280 in late and close situations. Reproducing that record was going to be tough. We'd been here before, our 2007 division title having been similarly powered, so we knew some regression was expected. Regression would have been fine. We could have handled regression. What we couldn't foresee was implosion, to a league worst .194 in those same late/close situations, and a resulting 15-26 record in one-run games. If you are dubious about clutch hitting being an actual talent, you have to conclude that a good chunk of what undid the D-backs in 2012 was really crappy luck.
But wait! There's more. Doubts Ryan Roberts would repeat his career season at third base proved entirely justified, and the bullpen that lost only five games when leading after six innings last season, lost more than twice as many (11) this year. Shortstop Stephen Drew was injured for most of the year, and sucked when he wasn't. That Willie Bloomquist was better than him tells you all you need to know about the position for Arizona in 2012. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson combined for 37 wins in 2011: This year, they will fall short of 20. (Hudson required Tommy John surgery after nine ineffective appearances.)
If there's one person, however, whose under-performance brought the Diamondbacks down, it was Justin Upton. Last time out, he finished fourth in MVP voting, just a couple of months after his 24th birthday, and the sky seemed the limit. But he hasn't ascended. After the first 81 games, our MVP's OPS was below — oh, heck! — Bloomquist. The team was reported to be looking for a deal for Upton, not for the first time, to fill more pressing needs. That didn't happen, and it may have been a good thing. For it seems Upton's struggles, particularly his power dropoff, may have been the result of a hand injury. Certainly, his September [hitting over .300 with six HR] was his best month of the season.
Mudslinging time: It wasn't really all our fault. Why the Padres decided to play like contenders and sweep two home series against us in July and August is beyond me. Who do they think they are, the Braves? I mean it's the Padres for crying out loud. Same goes for the Cubs who swept us in a home series in July. How dare they! They're supposed to lay down against division contenders. Give us 6-3 in those nine games and it's a whole new ballgame.
I blame Josh Byrnes who surely must have spiked the Padres pregame punchbowls with D&D super strength drink for those series just to get back at us for not embracing his organizational advocacy and running him out of town. How childish and surely highly illegal. Somebody needs to add that stuff to the banned substance list for in-season drug testing.
I know our team didn't stoop to that level because I saw a tweet on the Internet about some internal team memo that following the 2011 season and the phantom Ryan Braun suspension that all super-strength drinks would now be banned from the Diamondbacks' clubhouse. What other reason could there be for Chris Young's shoulder splattering from simply running into a wall? Or Daniel Hudson's elbow shredding from throwing too hard? Or Justin Upton's thumb blowing up just from sliding into a base? It's preposterous.
We played it fair and square and it cost us. There's no other explanation. I'd rather win a clean race than lose a dirty one. So Josh Byrnes? Phooey on you. It was a low blow and a cheap shot. I noticed you didn't spike the punch bowls against Los Angeles or San Francisco. You laid down just fine for them. I would even go so far as to accuse Byrnes of having an inside clubhouse attendant at Chase Field who was spiking the punch bowls of all our opponents! There's no other explanation for playing .500 baseball at home. It's a statistical anomaly that can only be attributed to supernatural phenomena. So thanks for nothing Josh Byrnes. I'm sending a letter to the commissioner right now for an immediate investigation so this doesn't happen again next year. Then you'll get yours. Just you wait. (/removes tongue from cheek)
Hope for the future: There were bright spots. Leading these was Aaron Hill, who has produced at a level that makes his two-year signing by GM Kevin Towers look extremely smart. Catcher Miguel Montero also signed a long-term deal and has certainly lived up to it thus far, and Paul Goldschmidt looks to give the D-backs a full-time power threat at 1B they haven't had for a long time. We particularly enjoyed his ownership of Tim Lincecum (or, as he's known in Arizona, "Paul's Bitch"), Goldzilla being 8 for 17 with five home-runs against the two-time Cy Young winner.
Wade Miley was another great story. The unheralded rookie only made it onto the roster because of an injury to Takashi Saito (yeah, I know — didn't see that coming...). But he pitched his way out of the bullpen, then gave us a sub-three ERA over his first 18 starts. David Hernandez was simply lethal in the set-up role, and if the team opts not to bring back J.J. Putz, is the heir apparent as closer. We also enjoyed Brad Ziegler, who generated ground balls almost at will. He has 20 GIDPs in 66.2 innings; everyone else with 20 has as least twice as many IP.
A change is going to come: Still, it was a disappointing season, with expectations being far in excess of reality. There are no major losses to free agency for the D-backs this winter, but there are undeniable holes to be filled — particularly shortstop, and possibly third base. It'll be interesting to see whether Towers opts to deal to fill these needs from an apparent surfeit of outfielders and starting pitchers. I sense Chris Young may be gone, with the team having apparently younger and cheaper alternatives. It'd be nice no longer to have that whole "Chris Young" confusion thing — though relief may be temporary, with the leading said alternative being Adam Eaton. No. The other one...
Speaking of starting pitching, the team has a lot of well-regarded pitching prospects, such as Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin, who are the envy of many teams. While their performances this season were short of what we hoped, the experience should serve them in good stead down the road, and their upside is tremendous. Throw in an offense which will almost certainly regress in a good way next year, being rather better in the clutch, and we're likely one productive Justin Upton or so, from being right back in it.
Some of you non-fans may be thinking, before starting a poorly punctuated debate about the Trilateral Commission in the comments, that the Diamondbacks are going to just be another also-ran next year, because in your mind having a stadium with a pool equates to bad baseball. (Don't deny it, I've run across people who think that way.) Well, just like an actual snake, the D-backs may yet strike out of nowhere and bite the rest of the NL West in the butt when they aren't looking. And the rest of the NL West will be dead — either from venom, or embarrassment because, come on, you just let a snake bite you in the butt.
So let everyone else have their underperforming panic trades, D-backs fans. Let everyone else have their 75 pitch limits and their players that are ineligible for batting titles. We know what we've got, and when we come out of nowhere next time around and people on the Internet are all, like, "Where did these guys come from?", you can take satisfaction in knowing you were a believer. Take heart! Know that you are good and right! Never give up! Climb every mountain! Do a barrel roll! Do a barrel roll into 2013, Diamondbacks fans!
Previous Concession Speeches: Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros