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“It’s like a nightmare, isn’t it?”

That line from one of the best movies ever, The Color of Money, came to mind yesterday as I watched the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 14th consecutive
loss via a Web-based scoreboard.

This was a heartbreaker by any standard. Randy Johnson threw
eight shutout innings, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out 14.
With Johnson leading off the eighth inning of a scoreless tie, Al Pedrique
pinch-hit for him. The move was unsuccessful–Quinton
McCracken
struck out–but the Snakes would go on to take a 1-0 lead on
Chad Tracy‘s RBI single.

With Johnson out of the game, though, the Rockies scored three runs off Mike Fetters and Randy Choate to take the
lead, and when back-to-back singles opening the bottom of the frame were
followed by three straight outs, the Diamondbacks had maintained their status
as the game’s only winless second-half team. The Snakes haven’t won since July
8, nearly three weeks ago.

Like it has on so many days this month, it was the Diamondbacks’ offense that
failed them on Sunday. Since the break, the team has scored three runs or
fewer in all but one game, and has a grand total of 33 runs in the losing
streak, just barely above two a game. Arizona is 14th in the NL in runs, 15th
in runs per game, 15th in OBP, and 12th in slugging. Remember that Bank
One Ballpark is one of the better hitting environments in the game; account
for that, and the Diamondbacks have the third-worst offense in baseball.

From a performance-analysis standpoint, the Snakes have been an easy target
because of their affection for older players. It’s not at all surprising that
a team with a roster as old as the Diamondbacks has collapsed; old age has
been a big factor in the 2004 disappointment of their AL counterparts, the Mariners.

The problem is that the team’s older players are its best players. Johnson,
40, might win his sixth Cy Young Award this year. Steve
Finley
, 39, leads the team in games, home runs and slugging and is
the most-sought-after position player in the trade market. Luis
Gonzalez
, whose left elbow is mostly theoretical at this point, is
hitting .261/.377/.501, although he’s about a week away from shutting himself
down for the season so he can undergo Tommy John surgery.

No, while age certainly isn’t an asset, the Diamondbacks’ brutal 2004 season
isn’t the result of being too old. It’s just what happens when bad luck, bad
decisions, and lousy player development intersect.

About a year ago, I wrote that Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola, Jr. had done a
much better job in the trade market than I had given him credit for. Rarely
had the players he let go amounted to much, while the ones he’d acquired had
ranged from excellent to poor. That’s changed; players who Garagiola swapped
away in the past 18 months are having excellent seasons for a number of teams,
while he’s getting virtually nothing for the ones who came back in those
deals.

Richie Sexson‘s shoulder injury was unforeseen, but sending
away three cheap years of Lyle Overbay has turned out to be a bad idea, given Overbay’s outperforming even his 90th-percentile PECOTA projection. Throw in half a lineup’s worth of players, including valuable talents in Junior Spivey and Chris Capuano, and that
trade alone has cost the Diamondbacks five or six wins.

Trading Curt Schilling for Casey Fossum and
prospects hasn’t worked out yet. The Erubiel
Durazo
-for-Elmer Dessens swap looks bad, but only on
the days Dessens pitches. Matt Mantei has thrown 10.2
innings while making about $4 million of his $7 million salary. He’ll post
fewer than 40 innings for the third time in five years as a Diamondback, and
if he’s not the player in MLB history who’s made the most money for the least
performance, he’s certainly invited to the rose ceremony.

Homegrown Diamondbacks have made minimal contributions to this team.
Brandon Webb, who might have been the best pitcher in the NL
last season, has lost his control and is walking about 60% more batters than
he did in ’03. The guys who have been knocking on the door the past couple of
seasons, like Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston,
haven’t impressed in their rookie seasons. While the Diamondbacks are loaded
at Double-A, it’s going to be at least a year before those players make an
impact in Phoenix.

This could go on for a while. The Diamondbacks just went 0-11 on a long
homestand, and now head to Houston and Colorado for a week. If Johnson is
traded before making his next start Friday in Denver, it’s not inconceivable
that the Snakes could come back to Arizona on a 21-game losing streak.

If you’re a Diamondbacks fan, it most certainly is a nightmare.

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