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Diamondbacks hope for improved second-half

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Three years ago, the Diamondbacks captured the National League West title in what was considered “a perfect storm.”

That is, several players put together strong, production seasons at once and the team found ways to win. Their ability to gain come-from-behind victories became nearly uncanny and observers believed the Diamondbacks were never out of any game.

If production came together to create an avalanche of victories, the current version seem to operate in reverse. Here at the official “half-way” point in the season, the Diamondbacks find themselves on the outside and looking through a wall which seems impenetrable.

Injuries, poor offensive numbers, a plethora of leaving runners in scoring position, implosion at inopportune times by the bullpen, ineffective starting pitching and recent questionable, personnel decisions have interacted to create an atmosphere of concern and uncertainty.

For the up-coming second half, the prospect of any kind of improvement seems unrealistic. Yet, through the disastrous first three plus months of the season, the team has hung together, their collective spirits undaunted and their purpose unwavering.

“It’s disappointing where we are,” said manager Kirk Gibson just before the break. “We go out and try and win every day but things have not gone our way.”

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the contrast between this time last year and the present is a tale of two seasons.

At the break a year ago, the Diamondbacks were in first place in National League West and holding a one game lead. Their record was just over .500 at 50-45 but fell out of first just three games into the second half. They managed to stay above .500 throughout the course of the season and finished at that .500 mark at 81-81 for the second season in a row.

Now, they seemed buried in a very competitive division and, as play resumes Friday night at home against the Cubs, they are 16 games under .500 with a mark of 40-56. That record reflects a team looking up but the D-backs are only one-half game behind the Rockies for fourth place in the division. Prior to Friday‘s game, Arizona still remains 13 ½ games behind the division-leading Dodgers.

Only the Texas Rangers, at 38-57 with a percentage of .400, have a lower record than the D-backs among all major league teams.

Given the low production of the starters as a principal reason for their current plight, Gibson says the team, as a whole, has held its collective head high.

“While the results are not where we like them to be, the players have played hard,” Gibson said. “Injuries have hurt but this has also given younger players the opportunity to step in the line-up. In that way, I’m definitely encouraged for the future.”

When outfielders Mark Trumbo (stress fracture in his right foot) and A. J. Pollock (fractured right hand) went down in April and May respectively, that gave David Peralta and Ender Inciarte a chance to showcase their skills.

Once he donned Sedona Red, Peralta began hitting line drives and singles up the middle while Inciarte’s bat has improved over the past few weeks.

Plus, the Diamondbacks start the second half with a new-look starting rotation.

Of the five, Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill, the latter recalled from Triple-A Reno during the All-Star break, are the only hold-overs from opening day. Changes have come with Josh Collmenter, leaving his role as long reliever, to take a spot in the rotation along with Chase Anderson and lefty Vidal Nuno, acquired earlier this month from the New York Yankees for right-hander Brandon McCarthy.

Given the dynamics and results of the first half, things can only improve and that’s the hope, moving forward, of Gibson and his intrepid players.

WITH THE RESUMPTION OF PLAY …

The Diamondbacks open the “official” second half with a six-game home stand.

First in are the Cubs.

In the opener Friday night at 6:40 p.m., right-hander Trevor Cahill (1-6, 5.66 ERA) gets the ball from Gibson and returns as a starter for the first time since late April. He gets former Diamondback right-hander Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.64) as his mound opponent.

On Saturday at 5:10 p.m., it’s a pair of lefties with Wade Miley (5-6, 4.18) taking on Travis Wood (7-8, 4.96). Miley is coming off his best outing of the season last Sunday in San Francisco. He threw seven shutout innings, allowed only four hits and picked up a 2-0 win over the Giants.

For Sunday’s matinee at 1:10, righty Josh Collmenter (7-5, 3.80) draws righty Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.95) as his opponent.

Some numbers.

In Friday’s game against Jackson, catcher Miguel Montero, although limited at-bats, has put up the best numbers. Montero is hitting .417 (5-for-22) while Gerardo Parra is hitting .357 against Jackson (5-for-14).

For Saturday’s game against Wood, Cody Ross has the most lifetime at-bats and is hitting .250 (3-for-12) while Paul Goldschmidt is 3-for-5 at .600.

Against Arrieta on Sunday, Aaron Hill has the most career at-bats and is hitting .364 (4-for-11, one home run).

After the Cubs, the Detroit Tigers made a rare visit to the desert for three, next Monday and Tuesdays nights and Wednesday afternoon.

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