The Arizona Diamondbacks made a strong statement in the season-opening homestand. This team is not just here to win a Wild Card spot — they are here to win the National League West.
Entering the season, the Diamondbacks knew the schedule would test them early. That is what playing 18 of the first 21 games against divisional opponents and 12 of the first 15 against teams that posted a .500 record or better in 2017 will do. But, it also presented an opportunity to put pressure on teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It is still early, but a series win over the Colorado Rockies, the team the D-Backs beat in a thrilling NL Wild Card Game last October, to start the season followed by a series sweep over the Dodgers accomplished that task.
Infielder Daniel Descalso pointed out how important it is to start strong, pointing to the D-Backs’ 7-2 start to 2017 that propelled the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“I think you want to get off to a good start,” Descalso told reporters after Tuesday’s game. “You saw the momentum that we had when we got off to a good start last year.”The @Dbacks look primed to compete for the NL West crown early on. Here are three reasons as to why.Click To Tweet
After a 5-1 start in 2018, which matches the best five-game start in franchise history (also in 2017, 2013, 2012, and 2000) are the D-Backs on pace for a similar end result? Time will tell, but this team clearly knows how to win and won’t give up.
The D-Backs have won nine consecutive regular-season games against the Dodgers, matching a team record. In addition, Arizona has won four consecutive series against Los Angeles for the first time since 2013. Before the road portion of the Diamondbacks schedule begins on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, here are some observations from the first three meetings against the Dodgers.
Offense humming, even without Goldy
The D-Backs best hitter, Paul Goldschmidt, has just one hit in 14 at-bats this season (.071) with a lone RBI.
After hitting a single-season franchise record 220 home runs in 2017, the Diamondbacks have hit only four home runs and were stuck on one until a three-homer game in a 6-1 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday. And yet, the D-Backs have scored 35 runs this season after a 3-0 win on Wednesday.
So, how has the offense averaged nearly six runs per game? To put it simply it has been a team effort — the “linking at-bats theory” that manager Torey Lovullo talks about often, has been on display.
More specifically, Nick Ahmed has picked up the slack. Never known for his bat, Ahmed is bidding to change that narrative in his sixth season in Major League Baseball. A career .230 hitter before 2018, the 27-year-old shortstop leads the D-Backs in batting average (.471), RBI (7), on-base percentage (.526) and hits (8).
As a team, the D-Backs are hitting .269 with runners in scoring position (11th-best in MLB), rank third in the majors with 13 runs scored with a runner at third and two outs, and they have done well in other situations, including with a runner at third and less than two outs.
The D-Backs’ ability to put together clutch at-bats and manufacture runs throughout the lineup is a big reason why they have not needed Goldschmidt.
But Goldschmidt has still has walked nine times, the second-most in the majors, and the D-Backs lead the majors with 31 walks. In Tuesday night’s win, the D-Backs went from a one-run to a four-run lead after three great at-bats each led to a bases-loaded walk. D-Backs hitters did not always show that kind of patience with runners on base last season.
Corbin does it all on Wednesday
Patrick Corbin pitched effectively on Opening Day, allowing only two runs in a win over the Rockies. But, he needed 93 pitches to get through 5.2 innings. Averaging almost 18 pitches per inning is not ideal.
Corbin stepped his performance up several notches and then some against the Dodgers. He needed only 23 pitches to complete innings one and two, including only 7 to record his first two outs.
He would go on to pitch 7.1 innings, allowing only 1 hit, while striking out a career-high 12 batters, including eight punchouts in five innings. He threw 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 1.38, picking up his first win over the Dodgers since Sept. 11, 2013.
Oh, and Corbin also contributed two hits; a double and a single.
When he is inducing weak contact against lefties, throwing his slider and fastball for strikes when ahead and behind in the count, and getting right-handed hitters to swing and miss at back-foot sliders, Corbin can dominant with the best of them. He did all of that on Wednesday. Of the 19 swinging strikes Corbin induced, 16 of them came on sliders, according to Statcast.
Zack Godley has been picked by many as one of the up-and-coming starters in baseball. His curveball and fast pace are big reasons why. Both were on display on Tuesday.
After a 15-inning marathon on Monday, the bullpen needed a break and Godley delivered seven innings of one-run ball. Godley only struck out three, but he induced 11 ground balls, his specialty, which held the Dodgers to no hits in six at-bats with runners in scoring position, including three with two outs.
Godley is known as the bull and he certainly pitched with a bullish mentality. The right-hander used his cutter and sinker effectively to generate weak contact and swings and misses.
Both Godley and Corbin gave the bullpen a much needed break, as Lovullo finally got length out of his starters, something that has been a bit of an issue in the early going.