D-backs reach halfway point optimistic but aware improvements needed

Jul 6, 2022, 7:43 AM | Updated: 11:22 am
David Peralta #6 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with Josh Rojas #10, Alek Thomas #5, and Jo...
David Peralta #6 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with Josh Rojas #10, Alek Thomas #5, and Jose Herrera #36 after hitting a fifth inning grand slam home run against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 3, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — “Everything goes too quick during the season, so I felt like it’s to a point where it feels like it’s kind of dragging. But looking back, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s crazy, the start of the season felt like yesterday,'” Arizona Diamondbacks receiver Joe Mantiply said Tuesday.

The D-backs closed the first half of their season with what manager Torey Lovullo called a big win Tuesday night, as they defeated the San Francisco Giants 6-2 at Chase Field.

At this point they are 37-44, six games back of a playoff spot and 15 contests better than their record through 81 games a year ago (22-59).

That improvement sparks optimism in the clubhouse, with second baseman Ketel Marte saying the team is more so on the same page this time around.

“I think we’re playing the game having fun and we’re getting along better,” Marte said translated from Spanish. “We are more together and that is what is we wanted.”

The D-backs showed togetherness Tuesday, when they rallied for five runs in the eighth inning to best their division foes for the second straight night.

Lovullo gave credit to his team’s buy-in this season and commitment to each other this season, despite its ups and downs.

“This team is committed — committed to each other, committed to their process,” Lovullo said Tuesday. “This team is committed to the coaching they’re receiving.”

The D-backs entered the season feeling last year needed to be firmly put in the rear-view mirror, and that they were set up for a much better output leaning on defense and pitching.

The most noticeable on-field difference is defense, as Arizona went from 20th in MLB in defensive runs above average last year to fifth entering Tuesday, according to FanGraphs.

That’s where manager Torey Lovullo wanted to see immediate growth during spring training.

Tuesday was a good example, as starter Tyler Gilbert and the bullpen held the Giants in check to give their bats a chance late.

The D-backs leaned heavily on their starting rotation early on, and the group of Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner, Zach Davies and Merrill Kelly highlighted one of the league’s top units a quarter of the way through the season.

There have been hiccups since, but all four own ERAs under 4.00 halfway through the year.

“That’s been a big help,” Mantiply said. “I think we’ve won more games this year because those guys have been so solid. We haven’t been getting into the bullpen before the fifth inning, which can really make it tough.”

The offense had a difficult start but pulled through with a strong May when it scored the eighth-most runs in baseball.

June was a step back, especially during a five-game skid in which Arizona scored 11 runs. But the team’s 35 runs in July through Tuesday are the second-most in MLB behind the Houston Astros (37).

Lovullo wants to see his hitters work all fields to find more consistency, as he mentioned he sees too much pulling for power attempts in stretches. The D-backs are 11th in the league in home runs but last in expected batting average at .234.

“I want our hitters to be stubborn to the pitch they’re looking for and use the entire field,” Lovullo said. “I want that to be a little bit different. I think our team is very dynamic. We’ve got really good hitters. We’re not just pull home run hitters. That’s not our approach.”

The D-backs had a season-high five opposite-field hits Monday and had four more on Tuesday.

Lovullo says that there are a lot of ways to win a baseball game, and that the D-backs will try to via 500 paper cuts. But that leaves no room for latitude.

He acknowledged that “good teams” win the games they are supposed to and the D-backs are still learning how to do that consistently.

There have been moments of the first 81 like Monday and Tuesday when they executed at the right moments, but Lovullo feels Arizona has much more building to do.

He said Tuesday that his staff never stops evaluating the needs of the team and considers “satisfied” a bad word.

“We got to keep that hammer down and keep instructing them and keep building the trust,” Lovullo said. “Really what it comes down to for me is when a player knows you care and you trust, they’re gonna listen to you.”

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D-backs reach halfway point optimistic but aware improvements needed