Why the Diamondbacks lost to the Rockies

Ouch. That hurt. After blowing the Cubs away, hopes in Arizona were high—but that was before we faced the mighty juggernaut which is the Colorado Rockies, who have not lost a game since 1273. Or perhaps it just seems that way. The Arizona offense finally reached down to the depths of their abilities, and played as if they were the worst team in the National League, which many commentators apparently pegged them to be. They scored eight runs in four games, with only five in the first 3 7/9 games. My research—albeit limited to Googling “low-scoring baseball playoff teams”—tends to support the hypothesis that you won’t win many series scoring eight runs.

The irony is, the sound thrashing flew in the face of much of the statistical evidence—a reversal of the regular season, where Arizona was out-hit and out-scored by their opponents, but still had the best record in the National League. The Rockies batted a paltry .222, with an OPS of .627; the Diamondbacks hit .254, with an OPS of .671—but
the Rockies outscored Arizona 18-8 over the four games. That’s mostly because eight of the Rockies’ 30 hits came with runners in scoring position, something that happened to the Diamondbacks for just four of their 36 hits. Clutch hitting may supposedly be a statistical myth—but for a fictitious concept, it sure had a lot of impact on this series. In particular, the Rockies scored 16 of their 18 runs with two outs, and few things will suck the morale out of an opponent faster than that.

Were the Rockies “lucky”. Yes and no. I could recite a litany of times where breaks seemed to go their way. In Game One, they roasted Brandon Webb with an apparently unending stream of bloopers, bleeders and seeing-eye singles, as well as Matt Holliday‘s 45-foot squib. In Game 2, they tied the game on another bloop, by Torrealba, that landed on the right field line. And in Game 4, pinch-hitter Seth Smith repeated the exercise with a jammed-shot onto the left field line that turned a deficit into a lead. It’s been said so often it’s become a cliche, but the Rockies were apparently destined to win this series, from almost the first pitch.

However, you do not win 21 out of 22 games by “luck”, and there’s no doubt they simply executed better. The Colorado pitching staff was generally excellent, and up until Chris Snyder‘s three-run shot in the eighth inning, the bullpen had been particularly tough. You could also see why their defense was, by some metrics, the best in the majors.

Two huge plays stand out: Willy Taveras taking away extra bases and the tying run from Tony Clark with a diving catch in Game 2, and Josh Fogg spearing a screamer right back at him by Eric Byrnes, after our first two men reached base in the opening inning of Game 3. Instead of an tie-breaking RBI single, it became the first of three double-plays in consecutive innings turned by the Rockies.

Some blame must be aimed at our manager, Bob Melvin, in particular for an unfathomable decision to use closer Jose Valverde for two innings in Game 2, when his season high coming in was only 32 pitches. He’d matched that by the time he retired Torrealba for the second out in the 11th, having allowed an infield hit and a walk. Inexplicably, Melvin chose to extend his closer further, and Valverde responded by walking consecutive batters on six and four pitches, forcing in the go-ahead run. Memo to Melvin: the Championship Series is not the time to experiment with roles, or test your closer’s stamina.

On the other hand that bases-loaded walk was the only one allowed by our bullpen in the entire postseason. They pitched a total of 24 innings in seven games, allowing just nine hits and striking out 32 hitters, with an overall ERA of 0.28. There’s no question, they certainly stepped up to the challenge, and some of the position players did too. Stephen Drew shook off a sluggish year to post the best playoff line on the team, .387/.406/.677, while Chris Young also had an OPS over 1.000, despite striking out in 13 of his 25 at-bats. On the other hand, Conor Jackson (.235), Eric Byrnes (.207), Mark Reynolds (.154) and Tony Clark (.133) all struggled in October, and they were the heart of the Arizona order.

All told, the “real” Diamondbacks are neither the team who swept the Cubs so emphatically, nor the team that was were soundly drubbed by the Rockies. As in most things, the truth can be found between the two extremes. But the experience will certainly have served them well, and—particularly when your team has the 26th-highest payroll in the league—no season when you win the division and reach the Championship Series can be considered anything but a resounding success.

Though I do still wonder what might have happened, had Trevor Hoffman managed to get one more strike past Tony Gwynn Jr., on that fateful Saturday in Milwaukee…

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