The Arizona Diamondbacks spent four months in first place in 2018, but will be watching the postseason from home in October thanks to a terrible final month that torpedoed a promising season.
Arizona’s loss on Sunday finished off a sweep at the hands of the Rockies, the Diamondbacks’ 17th loss in their last 22 games. Arizona last won a series on Aug. 21-22; they are 0-8-1 since.
This was a team that opened the season 21-8, the best start in franchise history, and led the National League West by six games at their peak. The Diamondbacks were in first place for 125 days in 2018, longer than any other National League team.
Arizona was in first place by a game to open September, but ended Sunday eight games back in the division. How did this happen?
The final month was foreshadowed with the last week or so of August, when Arizona scored 19 total runs in eight games, including three or fewer runs seven times.
“I know that this is a very capable offensive team. I’m proud of these guys for grinding,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said on Sept. 1. “I’m proud of these guys for continuing to go out there and search for ways to score a lot more runs. I think it will happen.”
It didn’t happen.
Ten Diamondbacks players have started at least 10 games in September, and eight of them have an OPS under .720 for the month. Steven Souza Jr. and Jon Jay, for instance, have combined to start every game in right field for Arizona in September. They are 12-for-92 this month, hitting just .130/.238/.185.
The Diamondbacks averaged just 3.48 runs in the final month after scoring 4.41 runs per game prior to September. Arizona this month is hitting .211/.282/.362 and scored two or fewer runs nine times.
Arizona relief pitchers have a 6.12 ERA in September, which is stunning because the Diamondbacks bullpen was a strength all year. In the first five months of the season, Arizona’s 3.09 bullpen ERA topped the National League and was second only to the Astros (3.02) in the majors.
Worst D-backs Septembers
But in this stretch of 17 losses in 22 games, which began on Aug. 31, Arizona relievers have lost five different games they led in the seventh inning or later. Three of those came on consecutive days to the Dodgers, an excruciating series loss that started the Diamondbacks’ tailspin.
Brad Boxberger was demoted from the closer role after three September losses, and owns a 14.54 ERA in seven appearances this month with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (two). He’s not alone; Jake Diekman, Matt Andriese, Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin all allowed at least as many runs as innings in September.
The Diamondbacks lost eight of their last nine games against the NL West rival Rockies and Dodgers, a surefire recipe for coughing up a divisional lead.
In all, Arizona has allowed more runs than any other team in the National League in the final month, 5.29 per game. This was after leading the NL in run prevention prior to September (3.78 per game).
Starting with a series in Los Angeles, the Diamondbacks had a ridiculously tough September schedule that saw them play 15 of 21 games against first-place teams, with series against the Dodgers, Braves, Rockies, Astros and Cubs. Arizona tied a major league record with 14 straight games against first-place teams from Sept. 6-19, matching the 1993 Orioles and 1996 Tigers, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Diamondbacks was just 4-11 in those games against first-place foes, but didn’t do themselves any favors in the other games, losing five of six, with the only win coming against the last-place Padres. That was way back on September 4.
Bad offense and bad pitching through a brutal schedule has delivered the worst September in Diamondbacks franchise history, and it was enough to send a first-place team home far earlier than anticipated.