Diamondbacks walk the walk in 6th straight win, beat Braves

Jun 2, 2023, 10:38 PM | Updated: 10:43 pm

Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks high fives manager Torey Lovullo #17 after scoring a ...

Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks high fives manager Torey Lovullo #17 after scoring a run against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at Chase Field on June 02, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — “OK, but how good are they really?”

It’s a question that sprouts out of a team exceeding expectations somewhere through a third or halfway into a season. That always adds more intrigue to when that surprise squad gets to test itself against a really great counterpart.

Enter Friday’s start of a three-game series at Chase Field.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, tied for the National League’s best record at 34-23 entering Friday, began hosting the 33-23 Atlanta Braves. Of the nine teams Arizona plays through June, the Braves and Tampa Bay Rays are the lone two ball clubs out of the eight total in MLB that are at least five games over .500.

Atlanta starts the month and Tampa Bay from June 27-29 in Phoenix wraps it. Will we be thinking of the D-backs in the same way by then? It’s part of the fascination surrounding a very exciting group, and the kick-off on Friday was a 3-2 win for the D-backs’ sixth straight that was convincing in, yes, we will be thinking of them the same way.

There wasn’t much of a difference on the mound between Arizona’s Merrill Kelly and Atlanta’s Charlie Morton, two very good pitchers who were just that on Friday.

In a positive indicator of a great team, Arizona was advantageous early and just made a few more key plays in important moments. That was what decided the night.

In the first inning, Geraldo Perdomo’s grounder to short was slightly bobbled and Corbin Carroll’s grounder to first went off Matt Olson’s glove. Both were difficult plays and would have been close at the bag, not ruled errors, but granted an opening of two runners on and one out.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. capitalized with a two-RBI double into the left-field corner that would have inspired a close play at the plate for the runner from first in most situations. It was Carroll, though, so the throw to home was cut off and he was in there with time to spare.

Two innings later, the Braves were in business when Austin Riley, with Olson on first and two outs, demolished a ball down the same line.

Olson, not as fast as Carroll to say the least, had ideas of scoring but was never going to get home in time. Gurriel made a great play on the ball in left, almost immediately hitting the cut-off man once he completed a smooth transition grabbing it. The throw home by Nick Ahmed was then cut off by third baseman Emmanuel Rivera because Olson had just received a stop sign and was trying to get back to third. Rivera caught him dead in the water for a tag to end the inning.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo was so excited about the execution on that play that he watched it back a few times. That’s a situation Lovullo noted Arizona really works on in spring training, but once the season rolls around, it’s not going to come up much again.

He credited Ahmed for making the type of perfect throw that could beat the runner at home but also give Rivera a chance to snag the ball if he makes that read. And Rivera could also make that decision to deny Riley an extra base if the play at home isn’t the correct call. Rivera made the right one and it potentially saved at least a run, maybe more.

“You don’t see that play often,” Lovullo said of it.

In the bottom-half, D-backs first baseman Christian Walker had Carroll on first with two outs and got a decent pitch to hit behind 0-2. A Morton changeup was hittable in the zone and Walker sent it down past third base (again!). Riley barely missed getting his glove on it, a play he’s not expected to make but once again could have proven to be a game-changer if he pulled off something outstanding. Carroll was rounding third by the time the ball was picked up in left and scored his second run of the ball game.

As a baseball mind, Lovullo has trained his eyes to watch a bunch of different things once the ball is put in play.

Now, however, like all of us, he’s just watching Carroll run.

“That’s how fun it is for me now,” Lovullo said.

Lastly, the D-backs with a 3-2 lead shut the door on an eventful ninth inning that could have at least tied the game, if not swung the whole deal.

A single led things off against Arizona’s Miguel Castro, and Travis d’Arnaud’s deep fly ball to left-center was hauled in by Gurriel on a great play at the warning track to prevent a game-tying double or triple that Lovullo said had around a 55% catch probability. Eddie Rosario — more on him later — then singled for runners on the corners, and Lovullo visited Castro.

On a 1-2 count to Ozzie Albies, he hit a fly ball to left that initially looked like it had some air under it but it landed rather shallow. Gurriel caught it, pinch-runner Sam Hilliard really never took much of a stab at going for home and there were two outs.

Atlanta’s Orlando Arcia hit the ball right back at Castro two pitches later, which very well could have been a game-tying base knock, but Castro made the play to field it and Arizona secured a terrific win.

Kelly finished the night with two earned runs on six hits and three walks across seven innings. Of his 12 outings this season, Kelly has tossed at least six innings in eight of his last 10.

Per the D-backs television broadcast, Atlanta scores 52% of its runs off dingers, by far the most in MLB. So leave it to Rosario, 11th on the team in slugging percentage and with 24 homers to his name since the start of 2021, to smash a Kelly cutter into the pool for a solo shot in the second inning and then hit another in the seventh. Those were the two runs off Kelly. The Braves only produced one at-bat against him with a runner in scoring position.

Kelly stuck out eight while Morton in seven innings of his own got up to nine. His six hits and two walks allowed for three earned runs was right there with Kelly as well.

Friday felt like a big game in the ballpark as a statement of sorts by the D-backs to declare they’re for real and their tone-setting first inning was one of those to remember if this winds up as a squad that 1) is in the postseason and 2) is making a run in it.

After Braves MVP frontrunner Ronald Acuna Jr. got an infield single to begin the game, the NL’s leader in stolen bases went for second on Kelly’s first pitch of the next at-bat. He barely slid over the bag, and after initially being called safe, Ahmed’s held tag got an out on a successful D-backs challenge. Catcher Gabriel Moreno offered a finger wag and smile at Acuna. The superstar right fielder gave a smile back, as well as using his fingers to let Moreno know the score was 1-0 between the two of them. (Keep an eye on that this weekend!)

In Arizona’s second at-bat of the game, Ketel Marte took a huge hack at a first-pitch fastball from Morton. He missed the high heater and fouled it off but Lovullo pointed that out postgame as a significant moment as well.

“Felt the presence of the swing,” Lovullo said.

The D-backs, of course, went on to score two runs after that.

In the seventh, Braves fans that will always make noise in the Valley got a chant going that was quickly drowned out by boos from D-backs fans. Kelly was facing what would be his last hitter with a runner on in a one-run ball game. His next two pitches following that verbal tussle between fanbases were strikes, both garnering those extra cheers from the home fan to show up those supporting the visitors.

Kelly noticed it and said he hasn’t felt energy like that in a while. Lovullo shared a similar sentiment when he saw kids on the jumbotron with a painted D-backs “A” on their chest.

Kelly admitted Arizona “couldn’t win a game to save our lives” from 2020-21 and how those teams would have found a way to lose this one.

In early June at least, these D-backs are not.

“We know we can finish games,” Kelly said. “We have the confidence to finish games.”

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