It might not have felt like it, but in the weeks before the All-Star break, the Diamondbacks were a team on the verge of decency — one that just couldn’t quite get itself there. A bad pitch, a blown scoring opportunity, a botched ground ball — something would happen and it would cost them a game, and they would return to the clubhouse and mutter to reporters in hushed tones.
When the break hit, the Diamondbacks dispersed. Some stayed in California, where the club finished the first half. The others went their separate ways. Whatever it was they did, it seems they used their time wisely.
The Diamondbacks won, 5-3, on Wednesday, beating the San Francisco Giants to complete a three-game sweep. They pitched well enough. They hit when they needed to. They ran the bases to perfection.
And just as important was what they did not do: They did not make the sort of mistakes that had been haunting them before the break. They continued to look like a different team.
“Maybe guys were a little tired (before the break), a little banged up, where we couldn’t really close out games,” Diamondbacks third baseman Josh Rojas said. “We talked about that little lull in the middle of games where we couldn’t put runs across or we were making mistakes on defense or just not putting the pitching with the hitting in the same games.
“I think everybody had a really good break, finished off in a great place, San Diego, got some beach time, got some sun. Just a little bit of everything. We came back well-rested and knew what we had to do. It’s working out so far.”
There is this reality to the past week: In taking two of three from the Washington Nationals and sweeping the Giants in three games, the Diamondbacks have beaten up on a pair of teams that have seen better days. The Nationals entered the second half as the worst team in the majors. The Giants, meanwhile, are a club in free-fall; they are winless in seven games since the break.
And there is this reality to what lies ahead: The Diamondbacks are headed to Atlanta, where this weekend they will face a Braves team that seems to be rounding into midseason form the same way they did a year ago, when they rode that momentum to a World Series championship. The Braves have won 36 of their past 50 games. The Diamondbacks will get to see if their play holds up against a better opponent.
“That is a product of some hard work and a lot of preparation and we need to continue doing that,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “We can’t rest on anything. This team has got to win the margins. This team has to go out and execute at a very high level. We do it right, good things happen. When we don’t, we drop balls and they score runs.”
There is a lot to like about what has been happening lately. Ketel Marte, who homered and doubled on Wednesday, has been swinging the bat well for months. Carson Kelly has gone from an offensive blackhole to a force in the lineup. Rojas, who homered Wednesday, continues to produce at the plate while making heady decisions on the bases.
And the Diamondbacks’ pitching in recent days has been at best dominant and at worst serviceable; right-hander Zac Gallen was somewhere in between on Wednesday, giving up two runs (one earned) in five innings.
The Diamondbacks “won the margins” on Wednesday in ways that were satisfying to Lovullo.
With the game tied at 2, the Diamondbacks’ Jake McCarthy dropped down a bunt single to open the seventh. Sergio Alcantara shot a single to center, then alertly took second on center fielder Austin Slater’s late throw to third. That set the table for Jose Herrera’s safety squeeze, on which first baseman Brandon Belt uncorked an inaccurate throw home to enable a second run to score.
After weeks of watching their offense go through prolonged quiet stretches within games, the Diamondbacks found ways this past week to generate runs in a variety of innings. They also found ways to make leads stand up, something the bullpen had been struggling to do with consistency.
“You can’t let teams just hang around, from a pitching standpoint or an offensive standpoint,” Gallen said. “I think that’s what we’ve been able to do so far is, the games we know we should would win, we’ve been able to put the nail in the coffin.”
After the game, a reporter mentioned to Rojas where the Diamondbacks reside in the standings. Though they remain eight games under .500 at 45-53, they are just six games back of a wild-card spot. Rojas said this was news to him — and he figures it would be news to most of his teammates, as well.
“I just think we approach every game like we have the last two series,” Rojas said. “I have no idea where we fall in the standings. I just know that every day we show up we have to win games and prepare the best we can to go out there and win. Wherever we fall at the end of the year is where we fall.”