Arizona Diamondbacks: Second half surge may get national attention

Paul Goldschmidt's versatility could be tested in the second half of the season. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Paul Goldschmidt's versatility could be tested in the second half of the season. (Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

It’s clear the Arizona Diamondbacks have shown marked improvement over last season.

As major league baseball breaks for its All-Star game, the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged as one of the surprising teams. When the season began over three months ago and pundits pounced in front of their crystal balls, most saw a continued vision of despair and gloom.

“This team will be lucky to reach several games of .500,” was the consensus, and the Diamondbacks were reserved to languish in their small market environment. This team’s news and gatherings clearly do not make national headlines, and their followers on various social media platforms are marginal at best.

Even during their first-half run to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the National League West, the Diamondbacks drew little spark and attention. If they stay in the division race over the second half of the season, and should marque players help carry the team near the threshold, there may be some attention.

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Because of the way the first half ended, and given the runaway nature of the Dodgers season, the Diamondbacks’ dot on the national landscape will likely be minuscule.

What concerns players and manager Torey Lovullo is not what writers write nor fans think, but how the culture in the clubhouse is maintained. A principal reason why the Diamondbacks are 17 games above .500 has nearly everything to do with the way Lovullo structured the clubhouse and his method of communication.

As early as Lovullo’s introduction as the Diamondbacks’ manager last October, he said at that news conference, “what matters to the players, matters to me.” That clearly has resonated and created an ease and comfort not detected in previous years.

Plus, Lovullo is open to any element which brings players together and creates a clubhouse conducive to friendship and then success. First, he allowed Taijuan Walker to bring in a basket/backboard and basketball into the clubhouse, opened the clubhouse door to children of the players and untapped the beer keg after games.

All of which resulted in players lingering after games, playing basketball, sharing a cold one and generally hanging out. The result has been trust among the players, trust in Lovullo and a laser focus on the task at hand.

After Sunday’s final game before the All-Star break, outfielder A. J. Pollock told Venom Strikes that the atmosphere between the cold reign of Chip Hale, the previous manager, and Lovullo remains favorable toward success.

"“I feel good where we are,” he said. “We had a few problems of late, but feel good about this team and the direction we are going. The feeling in the clubhouse is good, there is good leadership and we’re more focused.”"

Despite losing five of the final six games before the break, the Diamondbacks believe they remain in a good place. The ability of good players, like Zack Greinke, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, David Peralta and Chris Owings collectively to have strong seasons, has enabled the team to reach this level. Add the All-Star season from Robbie Ray, the contribution of Zack Godley and bullpen efforts from Archie Bradley and Fernando Rodney, despite a few roadblocks, and this team shows signs of consistency and dependability.

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All of which prompted Lovullo to tell Venom Strikes his team is prepared for the stretch run.

"“For us, the (All-Star) break comes at a good time after two tough series,” he said, and referenced series losses to the Dodgers and Reds. “Going forward, I’m not changing. We have been successful in what we have done and commitment from the players. When we come back, I’ll tell our athletes keep doing what you’re doing and things will fall into place.”"