With the Phoenix Suns now eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes now focusing on a bleak future in Arizona, and a general declining interest for the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State football in their upcoming seasons, the attention for many Phoenix and Arizona sports fans has shifted to the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks.

And boy, it isn’t pretty.

The Diamondbacks, a team some picked to be a dark horse contender in the National League West this season, are currently last in the National League West, sporting a 20-30 record. They’re 6.5 games behind the fourth place Rockies.

The team also has the second worst record in the National League, tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Only the Astros have a worse record in the NL.

Arizona has lost 6-straight. And things are not looking up for the Diamondbacks.

The team has had struggled in most areas, particularly on offense. Arizona is hitting a dismal .254 collectively, and has a total of 458 strikeouts.

Stephen Drew’s good .299 average is the highest among position players. But no one is hitting .300. The offense has gone totally stagnant, a far cry from when Arizona was among the league leaders in hitting early in the season.

The team’s offensive struggles have been highlighted so far in their current series against the Giants. The team has hit a collective 3-for-57 in the first two games against San Francisco. They were even one-hit by San Francisco pitcher Matt Cain on Friday.

One of the three hits was a solo home run by Rusty Ryan, a role player that was inserted into the lineup last night by Hinch.

Ryal has been a bright spot on the team. He’s done an admirable job coming off the bench and making the most of his opportunities, as evidenced last night.

However, others are not so optimistic about the team’s future.

“I sense a ton of frustration on our team and we’re not responding perfectly, but I don’t think there’s a lack of effort or a lack of will,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. “I just think there is a lack of answers.”

The bullpen has also been a concern for the Diamondbacks and their fans. Just like last year, the relief pitching has done little to make Arizona fans happy. For awhile, they kept blowing one save after another. As a fan, even a 3-0 lead in the seventh didn’t feel safe.

To be very honest, I have lost count of the exact number of games the relief pitching has blown. A gradual lack of interest to the Diamondbacks and playoff runs by both the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Coyotes have lead to my hazy memory. But just looking at the statistics, boy is it ugly.

Closer Chad Qualls was part of the trade that sent former closer (and a solid one for the Diamondbacks) Jose Valverde to Houston. It’s just one of the heavily scrutinized moves general manager Josh Byrnes has made in his time as the D’back GM..

Qualls has saved nine games. That’s not a bad amount, but it does get worse. Qualls has a 7.02 ERA, three blown saves, and has not looked comfortable on the mound.

Relief pitcher Juan Gutierrez, who was solid last year, has an 0-4 record and a 10.00 ERA . Gutierrez gave up the grand slam which eventually caused Arizona to drop a 6-5 game against the Braves in Atlanta.

He’s has also four rough outings in his last six appearances , which includes that game in Atlanta. He also gave up two home runs and four runs total in 0.2 innings against the Rockies in Denver on Wednesday.

For much of the season, the bullpen had a collective ERA of over 7.00 . They are easily the worst relief unit in baseball.

While Jon Rauch consistently damaged the Diamondbacks hope of even making it a competitive season last year, Gutierrez has been a sore spot this season.

Despite a clear need for improving the bullpen, no general change occurred during the off-season, a clear sign that this current front office (in particular GM Josh Byrnes and to a slight degree manager AJ Hinch) have to step it up, or else changes will be needed.

The Diamondbacks starting pitching has been one solid area for the team.  Ian Kennedy, in particular, has stepped up.

Kennedy, who the Diamondbacks got in a three team deal with the Tigers and Yankees (Arizona got Kennedy from New York), has flourished in a tamer market. He has a 3.41 ERA.

Among Kennedy’s gems include two shutouts against the Houston Astros and the division-leading San Diego Padres. Haren has been decent, while Edwin Jackson has improved since starting slow.

However, with a bad bullpen, the starting pitching can only go as far. And the starting pitching unit has largely been a victim of the bad bullpen and the shaky offense.

From an on-field standpoint, there has to be changes to be done for the Diamondbacks as a team. From an organization many said had a great chance at becoming baseball’s next dynasty, an organization that many boasted had the best farm system just in 2005 to now an underachieving and in general a morbid franchise, it’s clear that the current regime has failed. And the players once regarded as the next “stars” of baseball (aka Chris Young and Connor Jackson and others) have largely flopped.

From a 92-70 season in 2007, which was good enough to make the Diamondbacks the best National League team in that regular season, the decline has been obvious. The Diamondbacks started out well in 2008, having a Major League-best 20-8 record after April. But the team largely declined and slipped to an 82-80 record, finishing behind the Dodgers in the division. Last year was worse. The team largely flopped and finished 67-95 and last in the division.

Fixing this problem will be hard and will require a long process. The farm system has largely transformed into one of baseball’s worst, and there is little chance the Diamondbacks will try and trade prospects to get a potential top-line bat this deadline.

The team is too far out from contention to risk such a move. A move like that failed just in 2008.  Adam Dunn was brought to Arizona with hopes to keep the Diamondbacks on top in the division and to counter the Dodgers’ trade for Manny Ramirez, but that move failed, and Dunn is now enjoying a career renaissance in Washington while the Diamondbacks got him for nothing.

Meanwhile, there isn’t much the Diamondbacks franchise right now that will attract other teams enough to give some prospects back to Arizona. Maybe Dan Haren, but is he really the game-changing pitcher he was when the Diamondbacks traded a good package for him back in 2008?

Justin Upton? Maybe he’s the closest, but do you really expect the Diamondbacks just to give him away for prospects just after signing him to a 6-year deal this off-season in hopes of becoming their franchise player.

Mark Reynolds? He’s a legitimate bat, but he strikes out too much and his defense at 3rd base is still a little suspect.

The Diamondbacks don’t enjoy the luxury the Houston Astros enjoy, be a bad team but have an extremely enticing player which would attract a good package of prospects in return, in Houston’s case Roy Oswalt. That is unfortunate for the Diamondbacks, who are in dire need of new blood in the farm system.

Another key issue is just what to do with Brandon Webb, who when healthy has a devastating sinker and has proven to be one of the best pitchers in the National League, but has had injury issues the past two seasons. In fact, his last start was on Opening Day last year, where he lasted only a mere 5 innings.

It was hoped Webb would finally get healthy at the start of the season, and come back and help give Arizona a legitimate 1-2-3 with Haren, Edwin Jackson and Webb, but his shoulder issues have largely not left him, and it is still unclear when he will return.

The issue with Webb: Should the Diamondbacks take a gamble and resign Webb to a lucrative deal, even with the injury concerns, or should they let him walk when his contact ends?

For a money starved franchise, a franchise that has faced financial troubles since former owner Jerry Colangelo literally bought the team the 2001 World Series title, only to see the team succumb to a 51-111 record on the heels of immense debt and financial problems.

Is it a gamble worth taking? That probably is the biggest decision the Diamondbacks can make in this rebuilding process, it is a move that can either hurt or help the franchise.

But one thing is clear.  Massive changes are needed in Arizona, in preference trying to give new blood to a shaky farm system. The team’s major struggles so far this season have proven that.


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