PHOENIX – When the Arizona Diamondbacks last appeared in postseason play, they were swept in the National League Division Series of 2017 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. That experience did not deter players from recognizing the value and significance of field manager Torey Lovullo and his approach.
After dropping the third game in that best-of-five series, reliever Archie Bradley reflected on the Arizona post-season run. All of this, he asserted at the time, would not have been possible without Lovullo and his style to players. Bradley then admitted at the time, “there is no other manager I would rather play for than Torey.”
Through his reign as Arizona’s field general since the 2017 season, players continue to accentuate Lovullo’s method of communication and open-door policy. At the same time, Lovullo admitted over his seasons in the desert that times are equally challenging.
That’s when he tells players to pack and head to the minors or designated a player for assignment. This season, that happened four times when the Diamondbacks, in mid-season, said goodbye to Madison Bumgarner Carson Kelly, Nick Ahmed, and Zack Davies.
Still, Lovullo’s even approach represents one firm reason Arizona is playing baseball in October. Despite holding a commanding 2-0 lead in the NLDS over the Dodgers, Lovullo’s message to his team is direct and simple. “Stay humble,’ he said. At the same time, realize the moment and enhance the experience, he stresses.
Through the stretch run in August and September, Lovullo continually told anyone who would listen, “we are a good baseball team.”
“These guys are hungry,” he said during the final week of the regular season. “They know what’s at stake.”
The improbable rise in post-season can attributed to two factors. First, the bullpen, restructured by general manager Mike Hazen, has been effective. Plus, Lovullo’s appointment of players, throughout a given game, pays dividends.
In the deciding game against Milwaukee in the NL Wild Card series, lefty Andrew Saalfrank came in the seventh inning, up by three runs but faced a bases-loaded situation with one out. He managed to get Sal Frelick to bounce to the mound where he threw out Christian Yelich at the plate. Then, he preserved the shutout inning when Willy Adames grounded into an inning-ending force-out.
While these represent just two circumstances, Lovullo has ridden the bullpen in this post-season. With Ginkel emerging as the set-up reliever and Paul Sewald as the closer, the back end of the Arizona bullpen is now as surprising as it is productive.
Then, there is the production from catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., both brought over from the Jays in the last off-season. Gurriel has developed into the most productive hitter in clutch situations and Moreno’s status as a timely hitter and formidable decisive force is equally compelling.
The success in the Dodgers series may cause this team to swagger and tempt fans with protracted trips to the Chase Field swimming pool. Yet, Lovullo remains on task and continually reinforces, “nothing is taken for granted.” For that reason, he repeats over and over, “stay humble.”
Game three … the series now shifts to Chase Field for game three. That’s where righthander Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 ERA for 18 starts), takes on veteran Lance Lynn (13-11, 5.73 ERA in 32 starts between the White Sox and Dodgers). Pfaadt will be on a short leash and Lovullo will not hesitate to pull him anytime from the third inning forward. If the Dodgers win and extend this series, game four is scheduled for Thursday night also in Chase Field. Here, look for Clayton Kershaw, who was humiliated with an 11-2 loss in game one of this series, to start for the Dodgers. Lovullo is uncertain as to his starter.