PHOENIX – The major league season is but a week into the books and already, a traditional discourse has surfaced. Aside from talent, how will teams try and outsmart other teams and gain every advantage are paramount to their overall agenda.
Some have called this “style of play,” “team personality,” or “persona.” Most teams traverse a season undetected. It is uncommon for a team to define a particular “style” or a dynamic of play. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, there may be a dividing line between all other clubs.
That’s because this team was built around speed and aggressive base running. With quickness in the outfield and a “green light” given, the Diamondbacks have forged a sense of purpose. Though the season is only a week old, there is a temptation to rush to judgment.
After their initial six games, Arizona was second in the majors with an average of 1.50 stolen bases per game. Only Baltimore (1.83 per game) had a higher percentage. That translates into taking an extra base and applying pressure on a defense in the manufacture of runs.
Before the Diamondbacks are anointed with a particular style and catalyst for potential success, there is caution.
“We knew this would be the identity of this team and a team which has a bunch of athletic ability,” said veteran Evan Longoria before the home opener on April 6. “A team identity happens naturally over the course of the year. With this team, that’s something that is built around that athleticism. It’s simple to see that that when we get those guys on base, our team goes.”
Over the past few years, general manager Mike Hazen, either by chance or design, forged a team of players willing to challenge and take chances. When confronted with a daring situation, the speed of outfielders Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, and Jake McCarthy is obvious.
The willingness to take the extra base, pressure opponents into critical mistakes, and take advantage of various circumstances around the diamond will likely separate the Diamondbacks from other clubs.
“We have many athletic players who are fun to play with and achieve success,” said Carroll before the home opener. “There’s a good vibe in here. I’m playing with guys who went with me through the system, and we dreamed of playing together at this level. Plus, there are guys in here I watched growing up, like Longoria. They can help provide direction and advice in the clubhouse.”
Opening night at Chase Field … If Diamondbacks rely on their athleticism and sense of daring, that approach was completely shut down on their opening night at home.
The Dodgers’ Dustin May, constantly throwing the upper 90s and hitting 100 on several occasions, kept the opportunistic Diamondbacks at arms’ length. Powered by a two-run third inning, May carried the Dodgers to a 5-2 victory before 48,034 in Chase Field.
The victim was Merrill Kelly, fresh off his two starts for Team USA in the recent World Baseball classic. In his two starts for 2023, Kelly is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA, but not where he wants to beat this point.
“I definitely feel I’m not locked in and not cruising,” Kelly said after the home opener. “I’m definitely fighting myself on some mechanical stuff and some timing stuff. It’s only the first two games and we have a long way to go. With some pitches, I’m missing by just a hair and with others, in my mind, I’m missing by way too much. I’m mindful of not getting ahead of people and not throwing quality strikes when I need to do that. “
Kelly has an opportunity to right his ship next Tuesday night in Chase Field. That’s when he faces the Milwaukee Brewers and his third start of the season.
Welcome back … though he received boos because of sporting Dodger blue, David Peralta says he is in a good place. The veteran outfielder spent nine seasons with Diamondbacks and then was dealt to the Rays at the trade deadline a year. Signed as a free agent by the Dodgers over the winter, Peralta returned to Chase Field Thursday night and said it’s a different feeling now walking to the visitors’ clubhouse.
“It’s a little weird that I’m in this clubhouse and never here before,” he said before Thursday’s game. “It’s a lot of emotion and it’s the first time coming back since they traded me. But, it will be a special day for me.”
On Thursday night and his initial contest back in Chase Field, Peralta started in left and went 0-4. Still, his style of play and experience caught the attention of L.A. manager Dave Roberts, who lobbied for his services.
“(Peralta) brings energy, professionalism, and he’s just a lot of fun,” Roberts said. “He is infectious, and he’s been a great addition to our ball club. It’s much better seeing him in a Dodger jersey than a D-backs uniform. He plays every game like it’s his last, and I like that. There’s a fire that burns, and he’s an intelligent baseball player. He plays the game to win and not for himself. He is a very unselfish player.”
More with the Dodgers … the first home series of the season continues with the Dodgers. On Friday night look for lefty Madison Bumgarner (0-1, 11.25 ERA in 2023) to take on lefty Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 1.50). On Saturday, it’s Zack Davies (0-0, 1.80) opposing righty Noah Syndergaard (0-0, 1.50). For the finale on Sunday, it’s righty Ryne Nelson (0-0, 5.40) taking on right-hander Michael Grove (0-0, 6.75). Then, the Milwaukee Brewers move in for three on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.