Arizona Diamondbacks: Lovullo and pitching are early reasons for success
By Mark Brown
The Arizona Diamondbacks captured another series victory in Pittsburgh.
Now that the Arizona Diamondbacks enter June with a double-digit number above .500, perhaps it’s time to look back and see how and why this level was reached.
Despite blown saves from Fernando Rodney and J. J. Hoover Wednesday, the Diamondbacks managed to squeeze out a 6-5 victory over the host Pittsburgh Pirates in 14 innings. The triumph provided another series win and through the opening two months of the season, the Diamondbacks have lost only four series in the 17 played to date.
At this point last season and on June 1, the Diamondbacks were 23-31 and 10 games out of first place in the National League West division. This time, the club is sitting 11 over .500 (33-22) and tied for second in the division with Colorado Rockies. Each team is one-half game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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Coming into the season, pundits believed the Dimondbacks team could score runs and a plethora of runs. Before Thursday night’s series opener against the Miami Marlins in south Florida, Arizona was fifth in the majors in run differential. They stand at a plus 36, and only the Houston Astros (plus 90), the Rockies (plus 86), the Washington Nationals (plus 65) and the New York Yankees (plus 56) were higher.
Here just past the quarter pole, there are two reasons for the rise of this team.
First, there’s the Torey Lovullo Factor.
When Lovullo was brought on board last October, he made a strong point at his hiring news conference to indicate, “what matters to a player, matters to me.” That has resonated throughout the clubhouse. Lovullo likes to talk to his players on a continuous basis, but not necessarily about baseball. Lovullo interject elements of life, strength of personality and the intangibles of incentive, motivation and encouragement.
Nearly singled-highhandedly, Lovullo has transformed the culture of the clubhouse. Now, players congregate after games, pitcher Taijuan Walker brought in a basket and backboard set and players shoot hoops. Lovullo introduced beer in the clubhouse and players now linger after games, engaged in that beverage of choice and generally bond.
The result is a clubhouse free from demons, absence of tension and devoid of cancerous elements. Humor is prevalent and players are shown communicating tips and skills with others. If Lovullo wanted on open clubhouse, this is what the 2017 Diamondbacks are about.
On the field, the best reason for success has been the pitching staff. This unit has been especially strong on the road. In 25 games away from Chase Field, the Diamondbacks staff posted a 3.44 ERA and the second best in the majors to the Rockies (3.26). Arizona relievers are 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA over their past18 road games and starters have posted a 3.04 ERA in their past 18 road starts.
Overall, starters are first in the NL in strikeouts, first in strikeouts per innings, second in innings, third in ERA and fourth in wins.
Pus, their home record remains among the best in the majors. When the Diamondbacks come off their current road trip (four games remaining in Miami) and host the San Diego Padres next Tuesday June 6, they enter Chase Field with a 21-8 mark at home. Coming into play Thursday, the Dodgers also have a 21-8 home mark and the Yankees are 17-8 in Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Zack Greinke (6-3, 3.24 ERA) opens the set against the Marlins in south Florida. He could draw lefty Jeff Locke as his mound opponent. Currently, Locke is on the DL with shoulder issues.
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The series and road trip wraps up with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday against the Marlins.