It’s funny how different a fan’s outlook can be after just a few short games. Earlier this month the Diamondbacks were on a 4-city, 10-game road trip that saw them get swept in Atlanta and Philadelphia and lost four of six in Houston and San Francisco. It felt like a reincarnation of the 2004 Diamondbacks team that lost 111 games; the most in franchise history.
The road trip ended with the Diamondbacks salvaging one win in the bay area beating the Giants 11-0. The home stand was brief; a three game rematch with the Houston Astros followed by another lengthy road trip. I think it would be safe to say that the expectations for this series were relatively low.
In Houston the Diamondbacks looked very lost and confused both in the field and at the plate. The pitching match-ups would be relatively the same meaning similar results should probably be expected.
Game one looked more like the final game in San Francisco than it did the series in Houston. The Diamondbacks scored early and often which was good since Arizona starter Max Scherzer didn’t look sharp again; a trend that has continued for most of the second half of the season.
The second game of the series turned into another laugher with the Diamondbacks shutting down the Houston Astros in route to a 9-0 win. Both Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds continued their hot streaks leading the barrage of Diamondbacks hits.
Going into the third game the Diamondbacks had already clinched series and were looking for their third sweep all season. Considering this is the end of August, that statement is indicative of how poorly this season has gone for the snakes.
The Diamondbacks had their ace Dan Haren on the mound. Recently Haren has struggled making the moniker “ace” more of an honorary term than one that is earned. Today Haren showed the form that made him the most dominating pitcher in the first half of the season.
Houston sent their most consistent pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez, to the mound to hopefully stop the suddenly potent Arizona offense. For most of the game it was a pitching duel but the Diamondbacks were finally able to get to Rodriguez scoring four runs to take the lead.
The Astros would battle back and in the ninth inning the Diamondbacks would be clinging to a one-run lead. Closer and former Houston Astro Chad Qualls was called in to nail down the victory and the sweep.
The game was going to plan in the ninth inning and despite a hit batsman the Diamondbacks looked to be in control. With two outs, Houston pinch hitter Jason Michaels rifled a pitch back to the mound that appeared to hit Chad Qualls and carom to shortstop Stephen Drew who threw to first base ending the game.
Rather than the traditional shaking hands in the center of the diamond, the team instead rushed to the mound where Chad Qualls remained on the ground motioning for the training staff. Everyone surrounded Qualls as he laid there in extreme pain.
Fortunately the ball had not hit Qualls as first reported. Qualls was able to sidestep the ball but in the process his left cleat stuck in the mound and he fell dislocating his kneecap. It was clearly out of place and assistant trainer Dave Edwards popped the knee back into place. Qualls was down for several minutes before finally being carried off the field unable to put any weight on his left leg.
As the team dressed and headed for the bus that would take them to their waiting plane for the trip to Los Angeles everyone’s thoughts were with their closer Chad Qualls who would remain in Phoenix for an MRI and tests to diagnose the damage caused by the dislocated kneecap.
It is unknown at this point whether Qualls will pitch again this season or what kind of long term damage may have been done to the knee. With the minor league seasons winding down it seems only a remote possibility that Qualls will return.
With the departure of Tony Pena and Jon Rauch, the Diamondbacks have traded away the only relievers they had with experience closing out games. An already fluid and at times porous bullpen suddenly became a lot less experienced.
Manager AJ Hinch had no answers when asked who he would use in the closer’s role during this upcoming road trip. Perhaps the two most logical choices are Juan Gutierrez and Esmerling Vasquez neither of whom have pitched in a save situation during their brief major league career.
Looking at Reno and Mobile there does not appear to be many options at the Triple-A or Double-A levels either. Going into the final month of the season and the subsequent off-season, the Diamondbacks will need to regroup and identify a successor should this injury be more serious or in case of an injury to Qualls next season.
While sweeping the Houston Astros felt good, that feeling didn’t last very long. I am sure the Diamondbacks would much rather have traded the victory for Chad Qualls health.