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Sport: Amid Arizona's Snakebitten Season, Sticky Stuff Crackdown Sparks Tension

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Injuries, MLB's sticky substance crackdown and a record losing streak seem to have compounded irritations for Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen.

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Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.

The Diamondbacks are dead in the water. And while the snakes they’re named for are actually adept swimmers, these D-Backs just keep on sinking.

Arizona’s 23rd consecutive road loss Thursday, a 10-3 loss to the Giants, set the MLB record previously held by the 1943 Philadelphia Athletics and the 1963 New York Mets, who were in their second year of existence. Thursday’s defeat was also Arizona’s 14th straight in all contests, a franchise record.

The sticky stuff rundown: What you need to know about MLB’s latest controversy

  The sticky stuff rundown: What you need to know about MLB’s latest controversy In the span of a few weeks, pitchers’ practice of using tacky substances to better spin the ball has become the hottest topic in the baseball world — engulfing the narrative of the season, placing extreme scrutiny on some star players and forcing another reckoning over MLB’s control of the game. Why is everyone in baseball suddenly talking about sticky stuff? MLB emerged from owners meetings in early June resolved to ramp up enforcement of a mostly ignored rule that bars pitchers from applying foreign substances to the baseball.

The D-Backs have been outscored 137-60 over the course of the 23 road losses, which killed their already unlikely postseason hopes. In fact, their FanGraphs playoff odds hit 0.0% back on May 28, 13 games into the streak. They own the worst record in the majors and trail the division-leading Giants by 24.5 games, the largest gap in the league, lagging even behind the woeful Rockies by 8.5 games.

Their last win in front of opposing fans came on April 25, when Madison Bumgarner hurled his unofficial no-hitter over the Braves. Since then, John Means, Wade Miley, Spencer Turnbull and Corey Kluber have thrown official no-nos.

“It’s nothing we’re proud of,” said manager Torey Lovullo after Thursday’s loss. “It’s been an extended period of time. It weighs on you. It’s heavy.”

Sticky Cleanup: What Pitch-Doctoring Enforcement Means for MLB

  Sticky Cleanup: What Pitch-Doctoring Enforcement Means for MLB In advance of a crackdown on doctoring baseballs, four-seam fastball spin rate is declining and offense is picking up. Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.The Great Cleanup has begun. In advance of an MLB crackdown on doctoring baseballs, four-seam fastball spin rate is declin After 10 consecutive weeks in which MLB average four-seam spin rate hovered between 2,306-2,329 rpms, last week it suddenly dropped 45 rpms to a season-low 2,269 rpms.

a baseball player standing on top of a field: Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen. © Provided by Sports Illustrated Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen.

Thursday's return of Zac Gallen (partial UCL tear), the team’s best starter, couldn’t stem the tide. In 3.2 innings, he allowed four runs, more than his offense would score over the course of the game.

Gallen had made headlines Wednesday by accusing MLB vice president Michael Hill, architect of the league’s sticky stuff crackdown, for promoting its usage during their time with the Marlins (Hill served as an executive with the team from 2007-20).

"He was in charge of an organization that was definitely at one point saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to need these things to help you,'" Gallen told reporters. Pressed to elaborate, he said, "You can read between the lines."

Hill was quick to fire back at Gallen's "false accusations" and Gallen's agent, Scott Boras, who in turn invoked the tooth fairy in his unconventional rejoinder.

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Gallen may have won in the court of public opinion, as it’s pretty easy for players to presently position themselves as the protagonists against the league, which has discovered many ways to alienate fans since Rob Manfred took over as commissioner. And he may be telling the truth—he wouldn't have anything to gain by lying.

But really, is it any surprise that the Marlins may have encouraged the use of grip enhancers on Hill's watch? By most reported accounts, this has been happening in every clubhouse to some extent. If you go by what the players have been saying, it was a necessity to stay on an even, sticky playing field. It should be equally unsurprising that Hill would take a harder stance when working for MLB and help try to get the game under control. You can quibble with the midseason rollout or the particulars, but Gallen’s shot across the bow at the man who once traded him felt like something less precise.

It felt like frustration boiling over for a pitcher who’s endured an unforgiving season: a partial UCL tear for him, injuries to many of his teammates (including but not limited to Madison Bumgarner, Carson Kelly, Ketel Marte, Luke Weaver, Joakim Soria, Asdrubal Cabrera, Kole Calhoun and Christian Walker), an endless string of losses away from home and an 11–19 record at the “friendly confines” of Chase Field. Now, on top of all that, if he has been using sticky substances, he has to adjust his routine—the pet peeve of any major league pitcher.

Sticky stuff isn't a scandal: Why vilifying pitchers is counterproductive for MLB

  Sticky stuff isn't a scandal: Why vilifying pitchers is counterproductive for MLB Pitchers’ use of sticky stuff — even the performance-enhancing superglue — and the forthcoming crackdown isn’t really a cheating scandal, it’s a belated reckoning that has more to do with aesthetics than ethics. Here are some things that are certainly true: The balance between pitching and offense is a sensitive scale that does not modulate itself and instead requires deft oversight, that balance — or lack thereof — is a critical factor in the ever-fluctuating flavor of the on-field product, the commissioner’s office not only can but should put a thumb on the scale, pitching has recently and increasingly established an upper hand, among the many advancements designed t

“Obviously, the mood is unhappy,” Gallen said after Thursday’s loss. “Guys are definitely not satisfied with the way we’re playing. I don’t know anybody in their right mind would be.”

It’s just an ugly situation all around in Arizona, which wasn’t supposed to be quite this awful. Projected by FanGraphs in the preseason to win 72 games, they’re on pace to win 46 and lose 116, which would put them four losses away from the all-time record.

There’s no obvious light at the end of the tunnel. In a historic streak that’s included sweeps at the hands of the Marlins and Rockies, there’s no point on the schedule for Arizona to point to and feel overly confident about. A six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Brewers precedes a road trip to San Diego and St. Louis. The team will have to dig itself out of this hole.

The D-Backs can take solace in one old idiom: misery loves company. For all their failings in unfamiliar territory, they don’t possess the league’s worst road record—that belongs to the Rockies (5–27). And they may be pushed out of the history books soon by the Orioles, who hold a 19-game road losing streak of their own after falling to Cleveland on Thursday, 10-3, the same score by which Arizona lost to the Giants. Maybe it’s a sign. Probably not. But this team could use any glimmer of hope it can get.

More MLB Coverage:

  • Mets Finding Ways to Win Amid the Chaos
  • MLB's Pitch Doctoring Crackdown Presents New Problems
  • MLB's Pitch Doctoring Scandal Goes Beyond Individual Offenders
  • Oakland's Balanced Roster Boosting Playoff Hopes After Dismal Start
  • He Made Sticky Stuff for MLB Pitchers for 15 Years. Now He's Speaking Out.

Why a new baseball may be the ultimate solution for MLB's sticky stuff problem .
The sticky stuff crackdown has produced just an absolutely bonkers reduction in spin rates across the league. The Nationals ace was particularly incensed Girardi had called for an additional check because, just moments before, a fastball had slipped out of his hand and nearly drilled Alec Bohm in the head. “I had zero feel of the baseball tonight, whatsoever,” Scherzer said. The next day, he found unlikely allies in the Phillies brass. “We’ve been talking about [a more consistent baseball] for years,” Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies president of baseball operations, said.

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