Where do D-backs stand as 1st half comes to close?

July 10th, 2023

PHOENIX -- The D-backs headed into the All-Star Break feeling good about their first half of the season, but knowing they’ll need to pick up the pace a bit when they reconvene in Toronto on Friday to open the second half.

Arizona lost five of its final seven games heading into the break and after a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Sunday at Chase Field, and after 61 days in first place through the first three months of the season, they are 52-39 -- two-thousandths of a point behind the Dodgers in the NL West, though tied in the standings.

“I think it went pretty well,” outfielder Alek Thomas said of the D-backs’ first half. “I don’t know what more you could ask for. Definitely positive. I think we can still improve in some areas and not let up. I felt like maybe we might have let up the past week or so. I don’t think we were playing our brand of baseball. So I think once we come back, we get back to [doing] that and ride this thing out and continue to play good baseball.”

Thomas was a bright spot for the offense Sunday, as he homered for the second time in as many games against a left-handed pitcher. Hitting lefties had been a weak spot for him, but since coming back up from an early-season demotion to Triple-A, he’s shown improvement in that area.

But outside of Thomas’ homer and a run in the first inning that scored via a throwing error by Pirates catcher Austin Hedges, the D-backs’ offense was quiet against Pittsburgh’s bullpen contingent.

The Pirates used seven pitchers, and while the D-backs got some runners in scoring position, they struggled to get them in. Arizona was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and missed capitalizing on three good scoring opportunities.

Christian Walker led off the fourth with a double and moved to third on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s ground out, but the next two hitters couldn’t get him the final 90 feet home.

Ketel Marte led off the sixth with a double, and he, too, moved to third when the next batter, Corbin Carroll, dropped down a bunt. Again, though, Marte was left standing at third.

Then in the eighth, Thomas led off with a single, moved to second on a sac bunt, but Marte and Carroll each grounded out.

“It's probably a little bit more of a frustration day for me,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I feel like we had some opportunities to score some runs and we didn't. I think we played good baseball, but I feel like at the most critical point in the game, at the most critical at-bat, at the most critical pitch, we didn't necessarily execute at the level that we have [to this point]. The types of games that we win we do, and when we don't do it, this is a result. That's how thin the margins are.”

Lovullo said he could sense that his team “spent some emotional fuel” over the past week in losing the final game of the series with the Angels and then being swept by the Mets before rebounding to win two of three against the Pirates.

Now, Lovullo wants his players to get away from baseball for a few days and be ready to hit the ground running in Toronto.

“Where we stand today doesn't mean a darn thing,” Lovullo said. “We could stare at the standings all we want, but it's not going to push us ahead. I think we're in a good spot. Wherever we are in the standings, though, we still have a long way to go.”