PHOENIX — With the Diamondbacks charging toward the postseason, it is clear this is not the 2016 version of the team. Injuries and a pitching staff that failed to live up to expectations led to the firing of manager Chip Hale.
“It’s a completely different team,” first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “Every year is a new year. There is new management, new coaches, new players. The biggest similarity is that we are wearing the same uniform.”
The Diamondbacks believe something special is in the works. In 2016, they posted the seventh-worst record in Major League Baseball. But since the turn of the new year, they have flourished and are in a tight National League wild card race. Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta credits the success of the 2017 team to new manager Torey Lovullo.
“Since the first day in spring training we had a big meeting and (Lovullo) was talking all about family and what we are going to do together and how we are going to win as a team and communication,” he said. “It’s easy to get used to a guy like that.”
Players say Lovullo has installed a winning mentality in the locker room. In his first full season as a manager, he has taken a team from the bottom of one of the most competitive divisions in baseball to near the top.
“We knew it was a process,” Lovullo said. “We’ve been following that process. We feel like we have changed a little bit of the culture here and these guys are built to win.”
While new management has definitely helped the team’s success, the pitching staff has had the biggest impact on why the Diamondbacks are excelling this season.
They have the third-best ERA in the league, allowing 3.55 runs per game, only trailing the Indians and the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Goldschmidt believes that the arrival of veteran players has helped the team go from statistically one of the worst pitching staffs to a marquee group of hurlers.
“(Catchers Chris) Iannetta and (Jeff) Mathis game-planning and calling pitches back there I think has been great because we do have some young pitchers, especially in the bullpen,” Goldschmidt said. “(Fernando) Rodney, he’s been there closing out games for us which has been huge and I think just that presence in the bullpen has helped a lot of guys that way, too.”
The Diamondbacks haven’t reached the playoffs since Goldschmidt’s first major league season in 2011, and he is the last position player from that playoff roster that remains on the team.
The Diamondbacks first baseman said he sees some similarities to the 2011 clubhouse in this year’s team.
“That 2010 team was coming off kind of a rough season and they brought in a lot of veteran guys,” he said. “Now we have kind of done the same thing with Iannetta, Mathis, (Daniel) Descalso and Rodney. To have those guys that have been in the playoff race, been in the playoffs, the World Series, long seasons definitely provides a steady hand for everyone to fall in line behind.”
Historically, September hasn’t been kind to the Diamondbacks. Since their 2011 season, the Diamondbacks have only had a winning percentage above .500 twice in September. The team will face some crucial matchups in the upcoming weeks, but that doesn’t seem to worry Goldschmidt.
“I think that has been our biggest thing this year: We haven’t looked too far ahead,” he said. “If you start looking ahead to who you’re playing two weeks from now or the next series, you start to lose your focus. Our focus is to just go out there tonight and try to win this game.”
While the Diamondbacks are on the verge of breaking out of their playoff rut, they are playing 10 of their final 22 games against teams above .500. Due to their recent surge, the Diamondbacks are now 37-33 against teams above .500, which is fourth best in the MLB.
The team has the second-best record at home this season, making it imperative to finish strong down the stretch and clinch home-field advantage in the National League wild card race. The Diamondbacks have a 7 1/2 game lead over the Rockies for the first seed in the wild card race and are 9 1/2 game ahead of the Cardinals.
The Diamondbacks return home Friday and host the San Diego Padres on Spanish Heritage weekend.
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