D-backs enter September with increased expectations, face 17 games in 17 days

Sep 1, 2023, 5:48 PM

Christian Walker and Torey Lovullo...

Christian Walker #53 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with manager Torey Lovullo #17 after hitting an eighth inning two-run home run against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 16, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks enter September baseball with their best record since 2018 at 69-65.

They are one game back of a National League Wild Card spot, accomplishing a goal general manager Mike Hazen had since spring training to play meaningful games during the final month of the regular season.

Manager Torey Lovullo’s expectations have elevated beyond that after years of falling well short of the postseason. He said the season would not be a success without a playoff berth.

“I got one thing on my mind, that’s to win every game we possibly can and get to get to the finish line playing our best baseball and get to the big dance and punch a ticket,” Lovullo said.

“That’s all I dream about. It’s a collective thought. We got a lot of work to do, though, between now and that time. … I think that entire room is embracing it. No, it will not be a success. I’m not into moral victories. I don’t think any of those guys are. We spent a couple years legitimately getting our ass kicked. I think they’re tired of it. They want to do something really good here.”

Ahead of the D-backs are 17 games in as many days, starting with three games against the American League-best Baltimore Orioles at Chase Field this weekend. 

Seven of the 17 games come against the Chicago Cubs, who hold the second National League Wild Card spot. Chicago is two games ahead of the San Francisco Giants who entered Friday one up on the D-backs.

Arizona and San Francisco have a two-game series later this month, which will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker. FanGraphs gives the D-backs a 36.7% chance to clinch a spot entering Friday’s game. 

Hazen told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke this week that he expects to make the playoffs while his team continues to develop and learn from these high leverage series.

The D-backs have the second-youngest position player group (27.4 years) among National League teams in the race for a playoff spot behind the Cincinnati Reds.

“… playing real meaningful baseball games comes with an increased amount of scrutiny and increased amount of stress, pressure, whatever you call it,” Hazen said. “I think the difference sometimes when you see the other team across the field, they’re way more comfortable playing in these moments against certain teams, because that’s all they do. I think you just get used to it. I think we need to get to that point, too. We haven’t experienced that yet.”

D-backs moving on from Dodger Stadium

To get to where they want to go, the D-backs will need to put a disastrous series at Dodger Stadium behind them. The Los Angeles Dodgers outscored Arizona 23-5 in a three-game sweep with two non-competitive games.

“I take every series on its own,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “It’s nice to build off some momentum, and when you’re feeling good, try to channel that and keep it rolling. … I expected to win some of these games.”

Lovullo said the series showed the how small the margin of error is in a series against one of baseball’s best clubs.

Arizona was 16 games above .500, dropped nine in a row to start August and fell below .500 before stringing together a 12-3 stretch. In 2018, the D-backs went 8-19 in September to fall out of the race. Their dry spell this year came with time to turn around the ship.

There are 28 games left for this inexperienced yet resilient group to continue raising the ceiling on what defines this season as a success or failure.

Orioles coming in

The Orioles are a similarly young group with an influx of talent from recent drafts such as Adley Rutschman and AL Rookie of the Year front runner Gunnar Henderson.

They are 34-15 since July 5, tied for the second best record in MLB during that span only behind the Dodgers. Baltimore is looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

“A lot of people in my circle have been saying that we’re just one year behind the Baltimore Orioles,” Lovullo said. “I focus on the now and I see a lot of similarities in our team, I really do: young, athletic, energized, learning on the fly. … They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. And look if they’re better than us, I don’t know, but we got to strive to get to where they’re at they are at.”

Pitching probables (ARI vs. BAL)

Friday: Zach Davies (6.93 ERA, 4.69 FIP) vs. Cole Irvin (4.78 ERA, 4.29 FIP)

Saturday: Slade Cecconi (2.57 ERA, 4.02 FIP) vs. Kyle Bradish (3.03 ERA, 3.45 FIP)

Sunday: Zac Gallen (3.32 ERA, 3.36 FIP) vs. Jack Flaherty (4.73 ERA, 4.28 FIP)

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D-backs enter September with increased expectations, face 17 games in 17 days