You remember the summer of 2011 here in the Valley, right? If your memory may have faded as quickly as our mild spring temperatures this May, I’ll remind you six years ago was the last time the Arizona Diamondbacks played meaningful baseball after the All-Star break.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) July 10, 2017
The chances of the D-backs catching the white-hot Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West are slim but revel in the fact, if Arizona can play like they did for most of the first three months of the season, more bunting will be hung from overhangs inside Chase Field the first week of October.
Sans the recent stumbles (3-7 in their last 10 games), this team has been incredibly fun to watch and easily one of, if not the best stories in baseball.
Here are five things we learned.
1. The Makeover
The disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff became more and more evident after Arizona limped home to a 69-93 finish last summer, 22 games out of first place and missing the post-season for the fifth-consecutive year. Quite simply, Dave Stewart wasn’t cutting it as general manager and it appeared “Stew” was never on the same page with managing general partner Ken Kendrick. He and manager Chip Hale were both fired shortly after the season.
Enter new GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo, who both came over from the Boston Red Sox organization, and each became the fifth to hold their current titles in Arizona since 2010.
Instead of spending lavishly or trading foolishly, a far too common trend in recent years, Hazen dumped catchers Wellington Castillo and Tuffy Gosewisch and replaced the duo with veteran backstops Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis, with holdover Chris Herrmann also seeing time. The results have been jaw-dropping. Last year Arizona was 30th in ERA (5.09), they head into the break second to only the Dodgers with a staff ERA of 3.43.
As for Lovullo, it will take a complete second-half collapse for him not to win National League Manager of the Year. He quickly not only earned the players respect but their trust, as well. His transparent style in the clubhouse and on the bench has been a perfect blend for a team desperately in search of the right balance.
2. Bullish Bullpen
Sure, closer Fernando Rodney has been a mixed bag at times but what did you expect? When he’s on he’s more than serviceable. When he’s not, well…you’ve seen a few examples of how ugly it can be.
Maybe Archie Bradley is the closer-in-waiting sooner rather than later, but for now his sparkling 1.10 ERA in 33 appearances out of the pen can’t be talked about enough, especially considering he had an ERA over five in 26 starts last year. His confidence and pitch location (something he struggled with as a starter) are off the charts.
Speaking of confidence, the same can be said for several members of Lovullo’s relievers. Left-handed specialists Andrew Chafin (1-0, 1.80 ERA) and T.J. McFarland (4-1, 2.39) have been brilliant, as has Randall Delgado (3.05 ERA in 25 appearances).
As a whole, the bullpen is 17-8 with an ERA of 3.49, fifth-best in baseball.
3. Zack is Back
Few would argue the D-backs made the biggest splash two winters ago inking Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million deal and luring him away from the Dodgers in the process. His first year in the desert was a disaster finishing with a career-worst 4.37 ERA in just 26 starts.
2017 has been a completely different story. He enters the All-Star break with just two less wins (11) than he had all of 2016 and he’s once again established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Greinke is 9-2 in his last 12 starts, including 2-0 this month.
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) July 8, 2017
The NL All-Star selection is 11-4 with a 2.86 ERA. He’s allowed just 93 hits in 116.1 innings pitched, striking out 131 while walking only 23.
4. Let’s Get It Started
While Greinke has certainly returned to form, fellow All-Star representative Robbie Ray has probably created the most buzz through the first half of the season. The left-hander with sizzling stuff is 8-4, has a 2.97 ERA and a team-high 141 strikeouts. He, along with underrated Zack Godley (3-3, 2.58), are both consistent starters in their mid-20’s.
Taijuan Walker (6-4, 3.65 ERA), brought over in an off-season deal from Seattle, hadn’t allowed more than four earned runs in a start until Saturday’s loss to the Reds. If he can stay healthy, he figures to be a key piece in the middle of the rotation.
Despite Patrick Corbin’s inconsistencies, the D-backs’ rotation has the second-best ERA (3.43), the third-most strikeouts (544) and innings pitched (524.2) in baseball. The entire pitching staff seem far more comfortable and confident working with their trio of battery mates behind the plate.
5. Home Sweet Home
Despite dropping this past weekend’s series, only the Dodgers have more home wins (39) in MLB than the D-backs (33) here in early July. What’s probably the most staggering statistic in the total one-year transformation is Arizona has already reached their home win total from ALL of last season when they finished just 33-48 at Chase Field.
You can look at a number of different factors (specifically better fielding, pitching, hitting and all-around play) but this mix of young talent and experienced veterans seem to have a flare for the dramatic in the latter innings.
The new-found confidence starts with Lovullo who seems to have a knack for pushing the right buttons at the right times. Corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are both All-Stars and are at, or near, the top in several offensive categories.
“I wouldn’t want these guys to change one thing,” Lovullo said after Sunday’s game. “I know it’s been very successful all season long. The recipe has been pretty good for us.”
I love our team!
— Archie Bradley (@ArchieBradley7) April 26, 2017
When the Diamondbacks take the field, they (and now their growing fan base) expect to win. It’s been quite some time since you’ve been able to say that around these parts.
#OurSeason has been a special and unexpected one thus far.
Something tells me the best is yet to come.