To pick up their besieged starting pitching, the Diamondbacks continue to find ways to get these guys off the hook.
On a night when starter Ian Kennedy continued to struggle, the offense picked up the 28 year-old but failed to pull off the magic of another extra inning win.
Instead, Chicago right-fielder Nate Schierholtz cracked a game-winning double into the left field corner to score Anthony Rizzo, who walked, to give the Cubs a 7-6 victory over the Diamondbacks in 12 innings before 21,141 in Chase Field.
Down 6-0 as early as the fifth inning, the Diamondbacks responded with a gift two runs in the bottom of the fifth, a Paul Goldschmidt three run homer in the sixth and the game-tying sacrifice fly from Cody Ross in the bottom of the ninth.
Arizona had several opportunities to pull this out but Didi Gregorius left the bases loaded in the ninth with a ground out to short, and stranded another runner on second in the 11th. Hector Rondon pitched the final two innings for Chicago to earn the victory. He retired the D-backs in order in the 12th and picked up his second (now 2-0) win of the season.
Leaving 16 runners on base did not aid the cause and, with the defeat, the Diamondbacks now fall a game and one-half behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers for the division lead.
“This one really stings,” said manager Kirk Gibson afterward. “We left a zillion guys on and ended up swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. We had our opportunities.”
For an offense recently on the ropes and Kennedy essentially a non-combatant in the war for the National League West Division lead, the D-backs need to discover methods to stay alive.
If Arizona is to remain competitive in the impending race for division honors, the team needs to get off the tight-rope and rely on power performances. With nearly two months remaining, the Diamondbacks have showed little semblance of consistency. That’s from both a pitching and hitting vantage.
For now, the players seem to do just the critical amount to keep their collective heads above water, but the emotion and tension will rise as the race raises to fever pitch. The issue ahead remains, will the Diamondbacks continue to exist in just a survival mode.
For the two months ahead, Kennedy, for one, needs to prove he is a creditable big league starter and reel off several wins in a row.
On Wednesday night, he was in pursuit of his 50th career win for the ninth straight time, and has not won a game since defeating the Cubs June 1 in Wrigley Field.
At this point, the 50th win may be as elusive as Kennedy’s fourth victory of the season. Winners in just three of his 19 starts this season, Kennedy’s fall from grace has been exacerbated by careless errors.
Even a stirring Arizona comeback Wednesday night could not hide the potential roadblock ahead.
“I can’t say enough the way the guys picked up me,” Kennedy said. “But, I made a few mistakes and it cost me.”
The Cubs waited until the fourth inning to tattoo Kennedy.
Doubles to the base of the center field fence by each David DeJesus and Anthony Rizzo, plus a RBI single from Schierholtz lifted the Cubs into a 2-0 lead in the fourth. From that point, Chicago added a four spot the next inning. That frame was highlighted by a two out, three run bomb from Schierholtz, who set a career mark with five RBIs in the game.
If Kennedy hopes to gain some measure of success in the weeks ahead, his desire continues to be dashed. Kennedy left after five, fruitless innings, yielded six earned runs and 92 pitches. Afterward, Kennedy said he felt fine, but fell victim to poor location.
In particular, the home run by Schierholtz in the fifth, he pointed out, was the game-changer.
“I wanted to touch the outside corner but the pitch slid back over the plate, and Schierholtz hit it out,” Kennedy added. “Yeah, I felt sharp early. I had a good fast ball and the curve was dropping in for strikes. But, I made mistakes with runners on base and I need to address that.”
If the Cubs continued to pound Kennedy, the Diamondbacks had no answer to Cubs’ starter Jeff Samardzija for the first four innings.
That is, until the fifth when the D-backs life-support monitor began to show a few beeps. Down 6-0, Arizona picked up two gift runs in the fifth.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Martin Prado’s grounder near the bag at second went under the glove of second baseman Darwin Barney and two runs scored, From that point, Goldschmidt slammed his 22nd of the season with two on in the sixth and Ross’ sac fly in the ninth sent this one into extra innings.
With the defeat in extra frames, Arizona is now 10-5 in extra inning games. The 15 games is the most in the major leagues, and is tied for third-most in franchise history.
The Chicago series concludes Thursday night. Left-hander Wade Miley (6-8, 4.05 ERA) opposes Cubs’ right-hander Carlos Villanueva (2-6, 4.16 ERA).
OUT FOR A FEW DAYS
While in the batting cage Tuesday night, catcher Miguel Montero came up with stiff back.
For that reason, he was scratched from starting Wednesday night against Cubs’ right-hander Jeff Samardzija. Manager Kirk Gibson said Montero will have a medical check-up, and plans to limit future playing time.
“(Montero) has caught the most innings in the big leagues and I’ll pull him back,” Gibson said. “(Wil Nieves) will get more innings and we’ll keep an eye on Montero.”
For the season, Montero has appeared 90 of the Diamondbacks first 102 games and sports a .226 batting average (72-for-319)., eight home runs and 33 RBIs.
MORE ON RYAN BRAUN
Ancillary points to Ryan Braun’s suspension have surfaced, and arguments tend to be dramatic.
Some have called upon Major League Baseball to strip Braun of his 2011 MVP title, and others argue the 65 game ban, through the conclusion of the current season, was the ultimate plea-bargain. In that regard, Braun can hang on his $117 million deal but will forfeit only $3.4 million through the remainder of the 2013 season.
Of the national and international discussion, the only one who has not spoken is Braun, and, according to Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson, that has to change.
“It’s interesting we haven’t heard from Braun,” Gibson said Wednesday prior to the Cubs game in Chase Field. “His last speech was pretty good (in which he denied the use of performance-enhancing drugs) and I’m sure he’s some where rehearsing his next speech.”
Gibson offered no comment or judgment on whether Braun should retain his 2011 MVP title. At this point, the baseball world needs an explanation, the manager offered.
“He needs to get in front of a microphone and address the issue,“ Gibson said. “Then, we can move forward with the rest of this.”
Others are not sure that taking Braun’s MVP award is, indeed, warranted.
“I‘m not making a comment on this,” said Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum. “Here, you’re opening a can or worms.”