At the time of this writing, the Arizona Diamondbacks are 34-25, two games back of the Colorado Rockies, and with a 3.5 game lead in the Wild Card above the Brewers. Yes, those Brewers. It is early June and there is a 99.9% chance that anyone who tells you that they saw this coming in the offseason are absolutely lying. The D-Backs are coming off of an awful, disappointing season, every fan can attest to the atrocity that was the 2016 season, and all of the letdowns that came from the extremely hyped team. And yet we have the team this year excelling, working exactly as they were expected to last season, with mostly the same pieces. In fact, it can be argued that the only major change that occurred over the offseason was the managerial situation, and that is what I think has made the difference for bringing this team together and succeeding. I would like to make it very clear that I never disliked Chip Hale, far from it actually. Chip Hale was a good guy who knew baseball very well, and he absolutely connected with the guys on the field. He was a decent manager, as proven by his success in the Minor Leagues. And of course, as we saw with Bob Brenly in 2001, it isn’t necessarily the knowledge of correct shifts, that can make a manager perfect for a team. But rather, it must be that they know how to handle the team, and how to extract the most out of every player. What I have seen from Torey Lovullo is just that. He has been able to extract value out of every single one of the players on the roster. And unlike Chip Hale, it appears that he is connecting with the players on more than just “one of the boys” level. There is mutual respect, trust, and understanding between the top step of the dugout and the rest of it. And the results show it.Embed from Getty Images
One of the best ways I think that Lovullo has been able to extract value from the team has been through his rotation of players. He has seemingly found a good balance for rest, matchups, and just playing the hot bat. The prime examples of this manifest themselves at shortstop and in the outfield. In the outfield, we started the year with Yasmany Tomás, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, and Jeremy Hazelbaker being the primary guys, supplemented by Chris Owings and Chris Herrmann. Early on, Lovullo did a good job rotating the players based on matchups as well as need for rest when he saw fit. Hazelbaker was the first to go, in seemingly a two-pronged issue of needing to call up a starter, Braden Shipley, and in an attempt to make sure that Jeremy saw plenty of at-bats that he was starting to lose out on with the great play from the other trio of outfielders. Shipley was then sent back down, bringing up Gregor Blanco, who had been injured during Spring Training. Then the injury bug once again hit Pollock, who has been as unlucky as you can be these past few years when it comes to injury. But with his loss came Rey Fuentes up to the majors, and the outfield has taken on a very different look. Because of the bad hand Lovullo has been dealt as far as injuries to Peralta, Pollock, and Tomás, he has been forced to operate a quasi-rotation out in the outfield, with Fuentes and Blanco serving similar roles, and Owings playing much more out there. Despite this seemingly haphazard outfield situation for the snakes, the quality of play has kept pace with their fellow NL West competitors out in LA and Denver. With Owings taking more appearances in the outfield, we have seen a coming out party of sorts for Nick Ahmed. His bat has seen much improvement thus far, batting .270 with five homers and is getting on-base at a much better rate than the rest of his career. The defense has also remained superb, as his Range Factor per Nine Innings is sitting at 4.54, well above the Major League average for shortstops, which is 4.20. If Nick can maintain this hitting alongside the defense we have come to see ever since he was called up, then we will be witnessing a solid starting shortstop emerge, and will create a bit of a logjam at the position with Chris Owings, not to mention Ketel Marte, who has been absolutely mashing down at Triple A Reno.Embed from Getty Images
So here we sit, early June, and we are talking about good Diamondbacks baseball. It has been a treat thus far, and I truly believe that they have the pieces this year to sustain a playoff run. Lovullo has shown great leadership, some of the seemingly minor additions of the offseason have stepped up big, the key cogs are grinding out what we need, and we have seen young players, notably Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings, Archie Bradley, and Robbie Ray, blossoming into very important role players. The season may have only just gotten fully into the swing of things, but I’m starting to smell October baseball.
As always, feel free to comment and give your opinion on the new and improved Diamondbacks!