Arizona finished the month of April with a 12-13 record, but caught fire during the month of May. The lineup performed like general manager Josh Byrnes envisioned when he retooled it during the offseason, working deep counts and stringing together hits to put up crooked numbers in multiple innings.
The bullpen, deservedly maligned during the 2005 season, did a nice job bailing out the starters in the season's first month, and when the starters began to put together quality outings in May, the D-Backs took off.
They finished the month 18-9, and started June off with a four-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta that capped a 7-3 road trip that also included stops in Cincinnati and New York. With the NBA Phoenix Suns' season having ended, the D-Backs were hoping that their play on that road trip would lead to a boost in ticket sales.
"It was very legitimate in both the results and the way we were getting them," Byrnes said of Arizona's 2 1/2 game lead in the NL West after that trip. "I think when we came off that road trip, the momentum changed drastically."
Yes, it did. The D-Backs lost the first game of a 10-game homestand to the Phillies in a nail-biter, and the next day, reliever Jason Grimsley's house was raided by federal agents probing the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The news broke as the game was starting that night, and Arizona sleepwalked through a 10-1 loss, part of a six-game losing streak and another step in an unbelievable stretch that saw them go 3-20.
"It's just odd," Melvin said. "A team that hit on all cylinders, that needed to hit on all cylinders to get contributions everywhere from the whole 25-man roster, and then it seemed like there wasn't one facet we were excelling in."
The starters struggled again, and this time, the relievers couldn't come to the rescue and neither could the offense, which no longer was working deep counts, and no longer was putting together the "27 tough outs" that had been the club's focus since the start of Spring Training.
|D-BACKS' TOP PERFORMANCES|
5/20, ARI 13, ATL 0 - Brandon Webb
Brandon Webb did it all, hitting a three-run double and throwing a complete-game shutout to improve to 7-0.
5/23, ARI 7, PIT 3 - D-Backs defense
The D-Backs turn a double play in a franchise-high 14th straight game against Pittsburgh on May 23.
5/26, ARI 3, CIN 0 - Brandon Webb
Webb throws a complete-game, seven-hit shutout against Cincinnati for his eighth win of the season -- the quickest start in franchise history.
5/31, NYM 1, ARI 0 - Eric Byrnes
Center fielder Eric Byrnes collides with the outfield wall and robs a Met of an extra-base hit at Shea Stadium.
7/1, NYN 5, ARI 0 - Brandon Webb
Brandon Webb lost his first game of the season, but struck out a season-high nine Mets at Shea Stadium.
The middle of the D-Backs' order in particular struggled to get the job done. For example, veteran left fielder Luis Gonzalez went more than 200 at-bats without hitting a homer, the longest such drought of his career.
"We were getting consistent contributions from everybody," Melvin said of the beginning part of the year. "But at times, your big boys have to take over, and we haven't really seen a hot streak or anybody really carry the team from the middle of the order, and at times you need that.
"Do I think it's going to turn? Do I think our guys in the middle of the order are going to get hot? Absolutely, I do."
Byrnes shares his manager's confidence heading into the second half.
"There have been some encouraging signs," Byrnes said. "I think our bullpen has shown that we have some guys that can be with us for a couple of years and be good bullpen arms. I think, at times, we've shown a long lineup, good bench, offensively good middle-of-the-diamond players that keep a team going. We still have a chance in our division."