The Arizona Diamondbacks opened the 2021 season with a four-game road series against the San Diego Padres. In Game One, the Diamondbacks fell into a deep hole before rallying to retake the lead. Unfortunately, the relievers lost that lead, too, and the Padres won, 8-7. Game Two saw the Diamondbacks also fall behind early, this time 3-0. They climbed back to within a run before giving up another late run, ultimately losing, 4-2. Game Three was what manager Torey Lovullo described as “a clunker.” It was all Padres as they waxed the Diamondbacks, 7-0. Game Four saw the Diamondbacks jump out to an early 3-0 lead. They ultimately prevailed, 3-1, to prevent a series sweep.
Game One: Padres 8, Diamondbacks 7
There were three major problems in the first game. One was runners left in scoring position. In Game One, despite scoring seven runs, the Diamondbacks could have scored more. In the first four innings, they left five men on base. Four were in scoring position. For the day, they batted .111 (1-for-9) with runners in scoring position. Their only hit in that situation was a single in the top of the first by infielder Asdrubal Cabrera that scored center fielder Ketel Marte from second.
Another major problem in the first game came from the inability for the pitchers to put opponents away. In the bottom of the second, the second batter — right fielder Wil Myers — fell behind in the count, 1-2. Five pitches later, he walked. Three batters later, with the bases loaded and one out, catcher Victor Caratini fell behind, 0-2. He singled on the very next pitch, giving the Padres a 2-1 lead. Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who had breezed through a 1-2-3 first on eight pitches, took 32 to survive the second.
The third major problem showed up in the third inning — falling behind in the count. The leadoff hitter — third baseman Manny Machado — struck out, but it took seven pitches, showing the inability to put guys away. But Bumgarner fell behind each of the next three hitters early in the at-bat, and he paid dearly. First baseman and Diamondbacks nemesis Eric Hosmer homered on a 3-1 count after Bumgarner had fallen behind, 2-0. Bumgarner fell behind the next hitter — Myers — 3-0 before Myers launched a 3-2 pitch into orbit. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth walked on a full count after seeing counts of 2-0 and 3-1.
Too Big of a Hole
Bumgarner took 33 pitches to get through the third. He took 18 more to retire the side in the fourth, his last inning of the game. In total, he threw 91 pitches (58 strikes) in four innings, allowing six runs — all earned — on seven hits and three walks. The Diamondbacks, thanks to a six-run outburst in the fifth, retook the lead, but the relievers could not protect it. After the game, Bumgarner said bluntly, “I put us in too big of a hole early for us to be able to hold them off.”
Game Two: Padres 4, Diamondbacks 2
The hitting woes with runners in scoring position continued in the second game. In the second through fourth innings, they left seven men on base — four in scoring position. Another two remained on base in the ninth, with one in scoring position. This ran the game total to nine runners left on base with five in scoring position. For the game, they batted .083 (1-for-12) with runners in scoring position.
The Padres still drew out long at-bats all game. Because of this, it took starting pitcher Merrill Kelly 94 pitches to make it through four innings plus one batter. Despite that, the Diamondbacks pitchers had a better outing than they did in the first game. Against those not named Eric Hosmer, they didn’t do too badly, holding them to 6-for-25 (.240) with one RBI. Hosmer, however, was a different story. He went 3-for-3 with a home run, a walk, three RBI, and two runs scored.
After the game, Kelly described what makes Hosmer such a tough out. “Right now, it seems like he’s locked in. When he’s getting his pitches, he’s not missing them. He’s balanced and covers the plate pretty well. The first pitch I threw him, I thought, was a good backdoor cutter. He did a good job of staying on it to put it in play, at the least, and make something happen, and he ended up beating it out.”
One positive through both games was the play of center fielder Ketel Marte. In Game One, he went 4-for-5 with a double and a home run, falling a triple short of the cycle. Game Two saw him for 2-for-4 with a double and a home run. Across both games, he scored three runs and drove in three. The home run in Game Two came one half-inning after he had to be checked out for a potentially injured wrist on a diving play.
“That guy just continues to amaze,” Kelly said. “Diving play out in center field — looks like he may have sprained his wrist. Then he goes up there and hits an opposite-field home run. He’s definitely one of the best players in this league. Every time he gets up to the plate, there’s an opportunity for something good to happen for the DBacks. I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t continue.” Lovullo added, “He’s in a strong hitting position (and is) making great decisions on the baseball. He is behind the ball and making great contact.” Lovullo added, “He’s fun to watch. We’re excited every time he comes up to the plate, because he’s going to do something pretty special.”
Game Three: Padres 7, Diamondbacks 0
Game Three was ugly from start to finish. The Diamondbacks struck out 11 times, but it felt more like 20. They only scratched out four hits — all singles — and no walks. No runner made it as far as second base. Starting pitcher Caleb Smith gave up four runs on five hits and three walks in a short, three-inning outing. It was 5-0 after only four innings.
Even with what all went wrong, there was a bright spot — reliever Riley Smith. He pitched five innings of long relief, allowing two earned runs on five hits and three walks. For a team whose bullpen was so taxed in the first two games, this was a needed breath of fresh air.
Lovullo arrived to the post-game press conference with a look on his face that resembled a parent picking up their child at school after said child had been suspended. He began by calmly saying, “It was not my favorite brand of baseball.” Coming from a person as positive as Lovullo, that’s a scathing insult. He said that the team simply has to do better. Later, he added, “Tomorrow is another day. We’re going to have some conversations (and are) going to tighten some things up. We’re going to press on.”
Game Four: Diamondbacks 3, Padres 1
“We have a good baseball team — we have good baseball players. We need to go out and execute at a higher level,” Lovullo also said after Game Three. Game Four showed it. They staked right-hander Taylor Widener — making his first major league start — to a 3-0 lead en route to a 3-1 victory to avoid a sweep. Widener was terrific, scattering five hits across six scoreless innings. Relievers Alex Young and Kevin Ginkel got the team out of jams, both entering the game with two on and slamming the door without allowing anyone to score. Chris Devenski got his first save since April 17, 2018, allowing a meaningless home run in the ninth.
Hitting was better, as they took advantage of early scoring opportunities in the first and third innings. It still could have been better, however. From the fourth onward, they stranded five runners — three in scoring position.
Looking Ahead to Colorado
The Diamondbacks, after a day off Monday for travel, open a three-game series Tuesday night in Denver against the Colorado Rockies. Luke Weaver will make his first start of the season Tuesday, followed by Bumgarner Wednesday and Kelly Thursday. The Diamondbacks will then head home for five games — three against the Cincinnati Reds and a pair of interleague games against the Oakland Athletics — before heading east for a 10-game, three-city road swing.
Torey Lovullo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ketel Marte, Wil Myers, Victor Caratini, Madison Bumgarner, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Jake Cronenworth, Merrill Kelly, Caleb Smith, Riley Smith, Taylor Widener, Alex Young, Kevin Ginkel, Chris Devenski, Luke Weaver