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‘We’re a good baseball team’: Diamondbacks start strong despite tough schedule

Jesse Friedman Avatar
April 24, 2023

Through 23 games, the Diamondbacks have played the Los Angeles Dodgers eight times, the San Diego Padres six times, and each of the Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals three times.

It does not get much harder than that.

The Dodgers have won 10 of the last 11 NL West crowns. Some analysts see the Padres taking the NL West in 2023. The Cardinals entered the year as favorites to win the NL Central. The Brewers currently have the second-best record in the National League. Oh, and the Marlins are off to a 12-10 start.

When asked about the Diamondbacks’ difficult opening schedule back in spring training, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo saw opportunity.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “I don’t really care about the opposition. I care about my team and the group that we have.”

Looking back on it now, Lovullo acknowledges that, while he liked the idea of his team being tested early, he did not know how it would work out.

“My family, my friends were all worried about having to play the Dodgers and the Padres the first 10 games of the season.

“I said it would be a great test for us. And no matter how we come out of that record-wise, we’re going to better for it. The fact that we’ve come out a little bit ahead I’m excited about.

“It’s been a tough schedule,” first baseman Christian Walker added, “but that’s good. We want to be tested. We want to play the best. That’s why we’re here, and yeah, just proud of the guys for showing up every day and just leaving it all out there.”

Despite dropping three of four to the Padres over the weekend, the D-backs have emerged from that hellish 23-game stretch with a 12-11 record.

Because of their knack for answering back when opposing teams score — a trend that already has fans calling them the “Answerbacks” in the early-going — the D-backs have tallied seven comeback wins.

“We seem to score every time they score,” general manager Mike Hazen said on Thursday.

Even in the team’s 7-5 loss to the Padres on Sunday, they clawed back from a 7-1 deficit to make things close.

“One of the consistent themes of this team is we continue to fight,” Lovullo said after Sunday’s game. “Today it showed up offensively. We drew some walks. We were patient. We had some runners on. We clipped a couple balls for some home runs, and we were right back in the game.”

In their four-game series with the Padres, the D-backs outscored San Diego, 22-19, and outhit them, 39-23. Despite losing three of four, all four games were competitive — except for the D-backs’ 9-0 route of the Padres on Friday night. The D-backs did not look like the same team that went 5-14 against San Diego last year.

That said, the Padres have yet to hit their stride. Even after the series win, San Diego is just 12-12 and its team run differential is minus-13. Nonetheless, particularly with Joe Musgrove and Fernando Tatis Jr. back in the fold, the roster is excellent and it seems unlikely that the Padres will only be a .500 team when all is said and done.

San Diego is not the only NL West team has started slow. The Dodgers, by their standards, have struggled with a 12-11 record. The Giants and Rockies, meanwhile, have been terrible, at 8-13 and 6-17, respectively. To the surprise of many, the NL West has the worst combined record of any division in the National League.

Even if the D-backs do not stay at the helm of the NL West for long, they have done a lot of things right that could keep them in the mix for the playoff spot all year.

As anticipated, defense looks like a strength. As of the end of play on Sunday, they graded out as one of the best defensive teams in baseball, ranking second in baseball with 16 defensive runs saved and first with 10 outs above average. 

Offensively, the D-backs have the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in baseball and the sixth-highest team batting average. They are also tied for sixth with 21 stolen bases and rank 13th in ISO, which is a measure of raw power. The only flaw for the D-backs’ offense to date is a microscopic walk rate of 5.3 percent, which is the lowest in baseball. Nonetheless, the team has enough hitters with histories of good plate discipline that it seems like that will resolve over time.

The Diamondbacks pitching staff has had its moments, but the overall results are subpar through 23 games. Both the team’s 4.84 ERA and 1.35 WHIP rank in the bottom 10 of the league. D-backs pitchers have also walked 11.6 percent of opposing hitters, which is the second-highest mark in baseball.

Keep in mind, however, that these statistics were accrued while playing arguably the most difficult schedule in baseball to date. Things get a lot easier for the D-backs over the next month.

From Monday through June 1, the D-backs play 34 games against the Rockies, Giants, Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies. Some of those teams are off to good starts — namely, the Rangers, Pirates and aforementioned Marlins — but none are consensus playoff teams.

This stretch presents a good opportunity for the D-backs to build on an already impressive 12-11 start. On Monday, they will open a three-game set against the 5-17 Royals.

“This is a long journey,” Lovullo said, “and we’ve got just to be patient every single day, do the things that we do best, control the things that we can control, and just win today. That’s the mindset.

I don’t want there to be any natural letdowns after [the Padres] walk out based on Kansas City’s record. ‘It’s a lesser team,’ I don’t believe that. I do not believe that for one bit. It’s a big-league team with big-league players waiting to come in here and do damage, and I want our players to be ready.

“They will be. We’re not going to have a letdown. That’s up to me.”

It is too early to draw any conclusions about how good the 2023 Diamondbacks really are. But if where they have been so far is any indication, they could be in for something special.

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic 

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