Someone once said you can’t judge a book by its cover.
If the Diamondbacks were a novel and the cover caught one’s eye with glittering graphics, the thought might be to dive in and digest a very good read.
In a way, that’s how the Diamondbacks felt at the commencement of spring training back in early February.
Gathering earlier than usual at Salt River because of their commitment to open the season in Sydney Australia, the team was coming off a second-straight .500 season. Yet, the team seemed to re-tool with Mark Trumbo securing a power position in the line-up, Paul Goldschmidt coming off his break-out season, the pitching rotation somewhat secure and the bullpen ready to command the back end of any game.
“Honestly, we thought we would be much better,” interim manager Alan Trammell said before Sunday’s season finale against St. Louis in Chase Field. “The expectations were quite high for this team. Then, the lost the two in Australia to open the season, came home to open up here, lost (3-for-4) to the Giants and fell behind quickly.”
While spring training is a time for optimism, high energy and enthusiasm, the collective mentality in the Diamondbacks’ Salt River clubhouse was no different. Spring excitement captivates baseball players with an intoxicating fervor. Every team will win its division, hitters will hit over .300 and pitches will win more than 20 games.
Happens every spring.
Despite the exalted level of hope, the Diamondbacks seemed doomed from the start.
First, veteran pitcher Bronson Arroyo showed up for spring training with a bulging disc and Patrick Corbin went down with Tommy John surgery. That immediately put the rotation in jeopardy and roles in the bullpen had yet to take any creditable shape.
Plus, a prescribed batting order and players with defined roles never materialized. Then- manager Kirk Gibson penchant’s to play all roster personnel seemingly in each day was unrealistic from the start.
As a result, a particular style was never established, such as utilizing speed at the top of the lineup or creating a batting order worthy of applying pressure on the defense.
Given nearly “a perfect storm” of difficulties, the Diamondbacks faced an arduous task. Not only did injuries compromise Gibson’s effort to put the best nine players out every night, the nature of the National League Division was also a factor.
The Dodgers, with their celebrated high payroll and higher expectations, realized their season hope with a splendid season from pitcher Clayton Kershaw and an offense led by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. As well, the Giants drew out of the gate in a hurry and held first place in the division until early June.
In the meantime, the Diamondbacks had great difficulty in stringing wins together and, throughout the season, could manage a modest three game winning streak, accomplished only four times.
While disappointment permeated the clubhouse and ate at the Diamondbacks’ collective soul, there was not much of a response. Instead, the atmosphere in the clubhouse remained dark and melancholy and productivity on the field marginal at best.
“Not a good start, not a good middle and not a good ending,” was the way outfielder A. J. Pollock summed up the season. “Not the way we drew it up.”