PHOENIX – It’s early. But the season’s only 60 games. Then again, the season could get canceled in a week. Or maybe it will play out all the way, and a champion will be crowned in October.
Not much is certain these days. Except this: the Arizona Diamondbacks need to win some baseball games. Like, now.
They did that on Friday night, rallying late to knock off the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 in front of absolutely no one at Chase Field. Baseball — and life in general, for that matter – is different during a pandemic. But crowd or no crowd, this was Arizona’s first home victory of 2020.
“Much needed win, a hard fought win,” Torey Lovullo said. “A believing win. Our guys were engaged and believed something special was going to happen. We just had to keep banging away at it and, at some point, we were going to get that break we needed.”
Christian Walker delivered that break, slicing a three-run double to right center off LA reliever Blake Treinen in the eighth. The D-backs had struggled to do much of anything at the plate up to that point, but Walker’s hit gave them their first lead of the night, 4-3.
David Peralta was up next, and he promptly singled Walker home for the insurance run.
“That grind-it-out mentality — that fighting mentality — is always, always present inside of our clubhouse,” Lovullo pointed out.
Archie Bradley made things interesting in the ninth, walking Matt Beaty before a Mookie Betts double. But Bradley didn’t let anyone score, and he now has two saves and a win in three appearances this season.
Zac Gallen was impressive from the start, tying a career high with nine strikeouts while limiting the Dodgers to just two runs on five hits over six innings. He gave his club a chance to win, and has now allowed just three runs and seven hits in ten innings across his two starts this season.
The 24-year old has now made 10 starts since joining Arizona midway through the 2019 campaign, and he’s looking more and more like someone Lovullo can count on every time he gets the ball. Two of the D-backs’ three wins this year have come in Gallen’s two starts, though Bradley actually picked up the win both times.
For the first seven innings though, it looked like the Diamondbacks were heading to their sixth loss in eight outings. In a normal year, you’d just brush that off. A rough start to a long schedule, they’d say. But this is 2020, where nothing is normal — especially baseball. Eight games represent nearly 14% of the season, the equivalent of 22 contests in a typical year.
In other words, Arizona had to have this win. Badly. Lovullo’s group had expectations for this season and, even with the late rally on Friday, they’re still last in the division at 3-5. But Gallen has been a bright spot and, with two more hits in this one, Ketel Marte is now batting .344. He’s showing no signs of slowing down after his breakout campaign in 2019.
Arizona still needs some other bats to wake up though. Jake Lamb and Nick Ahmed each went 0-for-1 on Friday, and Eduardo Escobar dropped his average to .133 after going 0-for-3. Over a week into the season, the D-backs have two home runs total. That obviously has to change.
Hitting won’t get any easier over the next few days either. At least not on paper. If the Diamondbacks are going to swing their way out of this, they’ll need to do so against stingy young lefty Julio Urias on Saturday. And then Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to return and make his first start of the year Sunday.
After that, the Houston Astros come to town.
Working in Arizona’s favor, however, is the fact that eight teams make the playoffs in the National League this year, instead of the usual five. That alleviates some of the pressure that was building from each game of a 60-game season essentially carrying the weight of 2.7 contests in a normal year. And everybody knew the front part of this schedule was daunting.
If the D-backs can survive this next week, they do still have a lot of time to make up ground against the easier teams on the schedule — just not as much as they normally would after eight games.