Diamondbacks emerge as early season surprise

PHOENIX — For a team which was expected to play below .500 baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks are considered one of the surprises of the early season. Not to manager Torey Lovullo.

Given Lovullo’s penchant for communication and an intense desire to gain as much information as possible, his methodology and approach are as robust as ever. Since players continually buy into his program, the remaining “x” fact is execution, and over the first month of the season, this team has executed.

Coming into Friday’s game against the Rockies in Denver, the Diamondbacks are five games over .500 (18-13) and boost an 11-6 record away from Chase Field. Given a stellar defense, the offense had produced runs and there have're been enough starting pitching to keep the Diamondbacks in most games.

After a disastrous start of the season, in which they lost three of four to the Dodgers and dropped two of those games by scores of 12-5 and 18-5, Lovullo resuscitated this team and now, the Diamondbacks enter play Friday night one game behind the Dodgers for the National League West division lead, and even in the loss column.

“We continue to build that foundation, brick by brick,” Lovullo told Fancred. “I’m very pleased with how the first month has gone. We’ve done it the right way. We play hard, we bonded, we trusted. Inside of that, fundamentally, we’re executing.”

From an offensive standpoint, the team remains at the top or near the top of many categories. They top the NL in extra base hits, and second in slugging percentage. They are tied for second in runs scored, and third in team batting average. The 42 homers hit in the month of April is the third most in franchise history and just behind 44 hit in April in both 2000 and 2001.t

“We set a National League record for extra-base hits in April,” Lovullo added. “I’m proud of that. I’m proud of those markers that we’re hitting. It means that we’re spending a lot of time inside of our work area and applying information. I think our pitching has been exceptional, especially our bullpen. There are a lot of key ingredients I kept a very close eye on because of the unknowns. I think those unknowns are getting answered, day by day.”

One principal tenet of Lovullo’s approach is the versatility of his players. Ketel Marte was shifted from second base to centerfield and Christian Walker, among NL rookies in several offensive categories, reinvented himself by adding a corner outfielder position to his defensive skills as a first baseman.

For Marte, who signed a $24 million deal last year through the 2020 season, his insertion in center appears seamless. As with those courted by Lovullo, Marte has clearly bought into the program and methodology. After sweeping the New York Yankees at home earlier this week, Marte put recent events in perspective.

“We're pretty good, have fun out there and give 100 percent every time,” Marte told Fancred just before the Diamondbacks embarked on their latest road trip. “When we swept the series against the Yankees, we showed we have a good team and we can compete with anybody. So, we just go out there every time, have fun and show we are a good team.”

Most would agree having a good time is important. More important is winning, and through the opening month, the Diamondbacks found ways to win baseball games. Good teams usually do find ways to win.

Next …

The Diamondbacks now embark on a six-game road trip and that begins Friday night in Denver and three with the Rockies.

Lefty Robbie Ray (1-1, 4.18 ERA) opens the trip and opposes lefty Tyler Anderson (0-2, 11.34). On Saturday, it’s righty Luke Weaver (2-1, 3.73) taking on lefty Kyle Freeland (2-3, 3.51). In the Sunday finale, look for Zack Greinke (5-1, 3.27) opposing righty German Marquez (3-2, 2.93). Then, it's off to Tampa for three with the Rays. The Diamondbacks return to Chase Field on Thursday, May 9 and begin a 10-game homestand.