Arizona's Dubious Shot at History, Summed Up in One Play (or Two)

The Diamondbacks are a few losses away from the longest road losing streak in MLB history. A bizarre mistake in the team's latest defeat symbolized their struggles.
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If you had to pick an individual play to define the current moment for Arizona, you could hardly do worse than this one, from the second inning of Wednesday’s 4–0 loss to the A’s:

It fits perfectly—disappointment, sprinkled with confusion, capped with a tedious review, ultimately resulting in the opponent taking a lead. This is not just failing to make a catch. (That can be disappointing, yes, but it’s ordinary; it’s straightforward.) It is failing to make a catch, but weirder, and a little sillier, and more aggravating. It’s the last six weeks for the 2021 Diamondbacks.

Wednesday’s loss was the seventh straight for the D-Backs. It solidified their hold on the worst record in baseball and also marked their 19th straight L on the road—the first team to pull that off since the 1985 Pirates. That puts them just a few road losses shy of the all-time record here, 22, a shot at a sad little slice of history. (For the weekend, they’re headed back to Chase Field, but if they want to stop the slide, they’ll have to scratch out a win at some point in a series next week at San Francisco.) But even if they stop short of making history, this recent stretch has been dismal enough. Over its 19 road losses, Arizona has been outscored by a margin of 100–40 (!), getting swept by everyone from the hapless Rockies to the first-place Athletics.

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Matt Peacock (47) reacts to a safe call by umpires after center fielder Ketel Marte appeared to catch a deep fly ball by Oakland Athletics center fielder Mark Canha.

A losing streak is bad on its own; a road losing streak carries its own peculiar frustration, less impressive, but arguably more of a slog. And so perhaps the best play to represent the Diamondbacks on Wednesday was actually not Ketel Marte’s failed catch from the second inning. Perhaps it was Christian Walker’s interrupted bat-break from the sixth—all of the anger that fuels a successful bat-break, just, you know, going nowhere.

This Diamondbacks team was never expected to be good. Yet it wasn’t expected to be quite this bad, either, currently on pace to miss its preseason win projection at FanGraphs by almost 10 wins. Part of that has been injuries—particularly to the pitching staff, which has been the team’s biggest weakness, missing Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver, Tyler Clippard and Madison Bumgarner. And the rest of it has just been a mess—the sour combination of bad play and bad luck necessary for a losing streak like this one.

After a certain amount of time, each loss begins to feel not like an individual event but like an inevitable routine. This creates a strange, sad music for the Twitter account of a team like the 2021 Diamondbacks. It announces the final score of every game, of course, like any other club account does. But where a winning team might share its losses with a forward-looking note of optimism, or even with a cutesy touch like a meme, a losing team must be more straightforward. It’s tasked with finding different ways to say the same thing each day. Its followers are frustrated. They do not want jokes or wordplay or false promises. They want a team that does not lose so much—which, of course, a social media account cannot give them. And so the team account can begin to sound as if it is trying to will itself to disappear. Its game updates begin to shrink; the graphics showing the final score are accompanied by fragmented phrases begging you not to pay too much attention to them. The subtext of each one is yes, we know; you don’t have to tell us.

Here, for instance, is the language from Arizona’s tweets after the first five games of this road trip:

  • Back at it tomorrow.
  • Final.
  • Tough one.
  • That’s a wrap in Milwaukee.
  • Sigh.

It reads like the world’s bleakest refrigerator magnet poetry set. While the first tweet nods at a flicker of hope—an invocation of tomorrow as something to look forward to rather than something to dread—that dies out over the length of the trip. Back at it tomorrow? Better not go there! Tough one. Sigh. Which brings us to Wednesday’s loss, the sixth and final game of the trip, and the language after this one was the most poignant of the bunch: “Heading home.”

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