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D-backs take licking, but keep on ticking

Lovullo's confident club overcoming adversity as it chases postseason spot
MLB.com @RichardJustice

HOUSTON -- The D-backs knew there'd be stretches like this when every little thing becomes more difficult. Injuries? Check. Slumps? Check. Bad luck? Yep, some of that, too.

No road to the postseason is without a pothole or two. Maybe that's why the D-backs remain so confident. They've weathered a storm. There probably will be more.

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HOUSTON -- The D-backs knew there'd be stretches like this when every little thing becomes more difficult. Injuries? Check. Slumps? Check. Bad luck? Yep, some of that, too.

No road to the postseason is without a pothole or two. Maybe that's why the D-backs remain so confident. They've weathered a storm. There probably will be more.

View Full Game Coverage

"They're tough and they're resilient and they haven't changed through this entire month of baseball, where we haven't had a lot of success," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of his players.

Lovullo's team is one of baseball's really cool stories in 2017. After averaging 91 losses the past three seasons, Arizona and its rookie manager sprinted to a 50-28 start.

Video: ARI@HOU: Lovullo on Corbin's dominant start

That early sprint built a foundation of confidence the D-backs are still riding despite a 17-26 slump they hope ended this week with a four-game split of a home-and-home series against the American League West-leading Astros.

At 67-54, Arizona is tied with Colorado for the top spot in the National League Wild Card race. The Brewers and Cardinals have closed to within 4 1/2 games and 5 1/2 games, respectively, but the D-backs remain in a solid position.

Best of all, they're getting All-Star left-hander Robbie Ray back from the disabled list next week. His return comes after lefty Patrick Corbin tossed 8 2/3 sharp innings in a 4-0 victory over the Astros on Thursday afternoon.

Here's why it's easy to believe in Arizona: The D-backs have scored the fourth-most runs in the NL behind an offense built around first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the NL MVP Award front-runner with 29 home runs and a 1.034 OPS.

Video: ARI@HOU: Goldy, Martinez slug back-to-back homers

The D-backs have a dominant No. 1 starter in Zack Greinke and three solid starters behind him in Corbin, Ray and right-hander Zack Godley. Arizona has an emerging star reliever in Archie Bradley and a veteran closer in Fernando Rodney.

In splitting with the Astros, the D-backs hope they've regained some of the momentum they lost in losing four of six to the Cubs and Dodgers.

"Now it's just trying to finish the regular season strong and give ourselves a chance in the playoffs and a chance to win the World Series," Goldschmidt said. "We were pretty confident early on in the year. I think from the outside, maybe people didn't give us as much of a chance.

"But inside the clubhouse, we knew we had a good team. It's definitely a challenge every day. Other teams are so good. We knew we could give ourselves a chance day in and day out, and we could make the playoffs. And then anything can happen."

Lovullo inherited a team with a homegrown core, and from Day 1, he preached confidence and execution. That is, don't think big picture. Instead, execute the next pitch, make the play, think very, very small.

Video: HOU@ARI: Greinke fans nine across 6 2/3 scoreless

"The culture's changing," Lovullo said. "I think these guys have great expectations on a nightly basis. As staff members, we hold them to those expectations. It's landed us in a pretty good spot.

"It's been fantastic. A lot of good moments, a lot of learning moments for me. I take a lot of pride in what's happening here. They have fun staying in the moment. They enjoy being around one another. They've relied on one another, and it's been fun for me to see them get a little bit closer, to fight as a family."

Lovullo's team got a little bit of everything in Thursday's victory, including an inside-the-park home run from second baseman Daniel Descalso and a regular one from All-Star third baseman Jake Lamb, his 26th.

"A lot of these guys came up together and struggled as young players," said Descalso, an offseason free-agent signing. "You tend to learn a lot when you go through those times. This core group has done a really good job, and there's a lot of talent here.

Video: ARI@HOU: Descalso hustles for inside-the-park homer

"It's just the way this team plays hard every night. We might not win every game, but this team compete. We've come from behind a lot this year -- I think we lead baseball in comeback victories [34]. That just shows when we get down, we've got guys who are going to battle and fight until the end. When you keep after it and keep having good at-bats, good things happen."

First, the D-backs have to get to the finish line. Maybe they weren't completely sure how good they were on Opening Day. After 121 games, there's some confidence.

"We know we're just as good as any other team out there," Corbin said. "When we play our best, we're tough to beat."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray