Bullpen, Defense Powering Diamondbacks’ Hot Start

With a record of 14-6, the Arizona Diamondbacks are off to their second best start in franchise history through 20 games. In addition, the D-Backs have positioned themselves nicely to make the playoffs for the second straight season for the first time since 2001-02. Arizona holds a three-game lead over the second-place Colorado Rockies in the National League West.

A lot has gone right for the D-Backs. When you consider that the D-Backs have been without Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Lamb for a majority of the season, the offense is still in the top 10 in Major League Baseball in runs scored. The starting rotation has had some bumps in the road, but rank fourth in ERA (3.27), fifth in innings pitched (115.1), third in strikeouts (129), fourth in WHIP (1.10), and fourth in opponents batting average (.216).

But it has been the bullpen and the defense that have carried the D-Backs this season.

Fernando Salas

Relief pitcher Fernando Salas #57 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Colorado Rockies during the ninth inning of the opening day MLB game at Chase Field on March 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

The Bullpen

The D-Backs bullpen certainly does not have the most well-known names, but they have gotten the job done this season. In fact, Arizona’s pen owns the lowest ERA (2.07) in the majors and opposing batters are only hitting .203 against them, which is tied for third.

Yoshisha Hirano was signed out of Japan, and Brad Boxberger was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Rays. Together, the two righties have paired with Archie Bradley to create one of the best back ends in baseball.

The Diamondbacks have been carried to their 14-6, first-place record by exceptional defense and unbreakable bullpen arms.Click To Tweet

Hirano has held the opposition scoreless in 10 of his last 14 games (2.93 ERA in 15.1 IP), and Bradley has kept opponents off the scoreboard in nine of 11 games, allowing only three earned runs in 12.o innings. Boxberger has allowed three earned runs in his last three appearances, but those came in non-save situations. The D-Backs closer is 7-for-7 in save opportunities this season and has gone about his business in a less stressful way than Fernando Rodney did last season.

But the middle and long relievers have been the unsung heroes. Fernando Salas earned a job out of spring training and has done nothing but pound the strike zone. His seven-game scoreless streak leads D-Backs relievers, he has held first batters to two hits in eight at-bats, and owns a 1.51 ERA in 10 appearances.

Jorge De La Rosa owns a four-game scoreless streak and has not allowed a hit to the first batter this year. He owns a 1.43 ERA in nine games. Andrew Chafin has turned in three straight scoreless appearances and owns a 1.61 ERA in eight appearances. T.J. McFarland, the third lefty in the bullpen, has not allowed a run in his last six innings pitched and can pitch multiple innings.

A.J. Pollock

Outfielder A.J. Pollock #11 of the Arizona Diamondbacks makes a diving catch for an out against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on April 17, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

D-Back Defense

If the pitchers focus on pitching to contact, the D-Backs defense has helped make their jobs fairly easy.

Only the Boston Red Sox (.993) owned a higher fielding percentage than the D-Backs (.990) entering Saturday’s action. Arizona has committed the second fewest errors (7). Arizona has also slowed down the running game, allowing only 8 stolen bases with 5 caught stealings.

In addition, Arizona defenders have saved eight runs according to FanGraphs, the fourth most in the majors.

How much the humidor has helped is up for debate, but D-Backs pitchers have given up their fair share of home runs. If the pitchers can keep the ball on the ground and limit line drives, the Diamondbacks should be in most games they play.

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