D-backs aim for consistency after break
Arizona looks to regain stronghold in tight NL West race
PHOENIX -- Yes, the D-backs play their home games in the desert, but they are counting on the fact that what they saw in April was no mirage.
The first month of the season went about as well as it possibly could for the Snakes, as they jumped off to a 20-8 start and looked like they would slither away with what looked like a weaker-than-expected National League West.
A funny thing happened on the way to the coronation, though, May and June were not as kind. The D-backs went a combined 21-33 and fell under the .500 mark on July 4.
It was a jarring fall, but it hasn't shaken the belief of the team's hierarchy or its manager. Both still believe the D-backs can recapture some of the magic that led them to a National League-best 90 wins and a berth in the NL Championship Series last season.
"I think the first month showed what we're capable of," outfielder Eric Byrnes said.
It was quite a month, as the D-backs found themselves at or near the top in wins, runs scored and ERA throughout and against division opponents, they were 17-5, which helped them build a 6 1/2-game lead at one point.
The D-backs hit .268 during April and averaged 5.8 runs per game.
"It's a long year, and we set the bar pretty high," Byrnes said.
It's a bar they couldn't reach in May, when they slumped to .244 and averaged 4.2 runs per game, and one they didn't come close to in June, when they hit .224 and averaged 3.5 runs per game.
"I think some of the first half has been less than what we expected," Byrnes said. "But I also think we've shown what we're capable of. It's a matter of going out and playing up to the standard that we expect."
|D-BACKS TOP PERFORMANCES|
5/29, SF 4, ARI 3 -- Unit knots Rocket
Randy Johnson ties Roger Clemens on the all-time strikeouts list May 29 in Milwaukee.
6/13, ARI 1, KC 0 -- Tracy's walk-off winner
Chad Tracy snaps a scoreless tie in the 10th with a walk-off solo blast.
6/23, ARI 2, BOS 1 -- Haren lays out
Dan Haren dives and makes a spectacular catch on a bunt in Boston.
6/27, FLA 3, ARI 1 -- Hudson's remarkable grab
Orlando Hudson comes out of nowhere to make the catch after Conor Jackson lost a fly ball in the lights at Dolphin Stadium.
6/28, ARI 6, FLA 2 -- Wall-banger
Eric Byrnes tumbles over the wall on a spectacular grab in foul ground.
Arizona manager Bob Melvin has tried a little bit of everything to get things going in a better direction. When the struggles started, he remained patient and supportive, but he finally reached his breaking point in Florida in late June and lit into his team following a loss to the Marlins.
There's been an emphasis on fundamentals with early work being done on baserunning and individual defensive work. Melvin also has had his team take pregame infield several times, a rarity in today's game.
Anything to try to get some consistency going. The D-backs won four straight in mid-May and then went the rest of that month and all of June without putting three straight wins together.
"We've got to play better," Melvin said. "But we still believe in these guys. These are our guys."
In other words, the D-backs are not pushing the panic button and no major changes to the foundation are expected.
"I don't think through any of this there has been any loss of belief in what we can do or who we are," Byrnes said. "We expect a lot out of ourselves and not playing well for a couple of months is that much more frustrating. Big picture, this is still a very stable group of players we just need to play better. As for a fundamental change of direction, I don't think so. That doesn't mean that we're going to sit idly by while there's adjustments we can make or in how Bob and the coaches get these guys to be more consistent. It's not a process of reinvention."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.