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09/25/08 7:04 PM ET

D-backs run out of steam down stretch

Late fade erased torrid April for defending NL West champs

ST. LOUIS -- They held out hope right up until the end.

Even four games down with four to play, the D-backs talked about winning out and hoping for a one-game playoff.

Instead, their playoff hopes ended with a 12-3 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

For five months, the D-backs were on top of the National League West, but they ran out of gas in the homestretch and were lapped by the Dodgers.

Expectations were high when the D-backs assembled in Tucson, Ariz., for Spring Training after the team won a National League-high 90 games in 2007.

The expectations only got higher when the D-backs jumped out to a 20-8 start thanks to a red-hot offense. After scuffling with the bats in 2007, it looked like the D-backs' young lineup was coming into its own as the club led the league in runs scored through the first few weeks.

May, though, would not be as kind to the D-backs as they went 11-17, including a 3-9 finish to the month.

"After the first month, we couldn't put together any kind of extended period that resembled the team that played the first month," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "It's been disappointing. We've constantly been searching for that, but we haven't been able to find it."

A below-.500 June followed, but the Dodgers were having their own share of problems and were still 3 1/2 games behind Arizona at the end of the month.

While Melvin tried all kinds of different lineup combinations, Arizona GM Josh Byrnes worked the trade market, acquiring reliever Jon Rauch, slugger Adam Dunn and infielder David Eckstein. The results, though, were marginal.

The D-backs were seemingly poised to put the division away in late August after they beat the Dodgers, 9-3, in the opener of a three-game series on Aug. 29 at Chase Field. Los Angeles had lost eight straight games at that point, and with Arizona co-aces Dan Haren and Brandon Webb set to go in the final two games of the series, things couldn't have looked more promising for the D-backs.

What happened next will no doubt be something the D-backs will think about long into the offseason.

The Dodgers beat Haren and Webb and went on to win 12 of their next 13 games, including three against the D-backs at Dodger Stadium the following weekend. Meanwhile, the D-backs went 3-10 during that stretch, and in a matter of just two weeks, their 4 1/2-game lead turned into a 4 1/2-game deficit.

It was a stretch from which they never would recover.

"It's tough," catcher Chris Snyder said. "They hit a hot stretch and we hit a cold one. You put that together and you get the Dodgers jumping around right now."

On the individual front, Webb made a strong push for his second NL Cy Young Award in three years. The right-hander won his first nine starts and his 22 wins -- with one start remaining -- are the most since Dontrelle Willis won 22 for the Marlins in 2005.

As one of the few constants on offense -- left fielder Conor Jackson was the other -- shortstop Stephen Drew became just the third shortstop in history to record at least 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.