PHOENIX – Two starting pitchers are hurt. So is the slugging third baseman. The team’s best player is in one of his worst slumps. And yet the Arizona Diamondbacks keep winning, taking two of three from the World Series champion Houston Astros over the weekend.
After going 4-3 last week against Houston and the Los Angeles Dodgers – the two teams that played in last year’s World Series – Arizona still has the best record in the National League at 23-11, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies in the N.L. West.
“I don’t think we were intimidated, I don’t think we were worried about it,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said of last week’s games. “We just knew if we played our game and did our thing that way that we know we can, that we would be OK. And we embrace that. We love these challenges.”
The Diamondbacks, idle Monday before a two-game set with the Dodgers in Los Angeles, still haven’t lost a series this season (they split with the Dodgers 2-2).
They have lost two of their five starting pitchers, Taijuan Walker for the season with Tommy John surgery and Robbie Ray for at least a month with a strained right oblique.
And Paul Goldschmidt has not been himself, batting .225 with four home runs and 11 RBIs. Looking uncomfortable at the plate, he has struck out 45 times in 110 at-bats. Goldschmidt is hitless in his last 23 at-bats. He went 1-for-25 in the home stand.
Lovullo has steadfastly stood by the big first baseman, saying he’s confident he will eventually be his old self, although he did give him the day off Saturday, when Arizona beat Houston 4-3.
The most consistent offense has come from A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, especially Pollock.
The centerfielder Pollock, who also has had some defensive gems, was named National League player of the month for April and player of the week for the first week of May.
In the week ending May 6, Pollock hit .423 (11-for-26) with four home runs, eight RBIs, five runs scored, a double and a triple.
He drove in the winning run with a two-out bases-loaded single in the ninth inning of Saturday’s 4-3 victory and, on Sunday, he tripled in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run on a controversial play.
After getting tangled up with Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, Pollock raced home and was thrown out. But Bregman was called for interference.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch used a colloquial version of “horse manure” to describe the rule and said it was “a bad interpretation” of it. Bregman credited Pollock with “a good acting job.”
Nevertheless, the run counted.
“We had meetings in spring training,” Pollock said. “You get obstruction, keep playing and if you get close to home and you are thrown out bang-bang, they’re (umpires) probably going to give you the benefit of the doubt. But if you get thrown out by 30 feet, they’re not going to call obstruction there.”
Pollock is hitting .306 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs.
Peralta has been the other rock of the offense. Batting in the leadoff spot, he’s hitting .295 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.
The rest of the offense, still without injured third baseman Jake Lamb, has been inconsistent. But the pitching has been strong.
The Diamondbacks lead the National League and are second to Houston in the majors with a 3.05 team ERA.
Left-hander Patrick Corbin is 4-0 in seven starts with a 2.15 ERA. Zack Godley is 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA and Zack Greinke 3-2 with a 4.10 ERA that is not indicative of the way he’s pitched, especially lately.
The big surprise is Matt Koch. The right-hander brought up from Triple-A Reno to take Walker’s place is 2-0 in four starts with a 0.99 ERA. The victories, by the way, were over (pre-injury) Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
The problem is with the fifth starter, a situation yet to be resolved.
The bullpen leads the majors with a 2.19 ERA.
Archie Bradley has a 1.42 ERA, nine consecutive scoreless innings and 19 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched, usually called on to face the heart of the opponent’s order in a close game. Closer Brad Boxberger has a 1.80 ERA and has yet to blow a save in 11 tries.
Things looked bad when Arizona lost its third in a row Friday, but the Diamondbacks rebounded with close wins Saturday and Sunday.
“You lose three in a row, you try not to let it spiral into something bigger,” Arizona’s do-everything Daniel Descalso said. “That’s the mindset that you have. That’s what good teams do.”
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