MIAMI — Paul Goldschmidt finally has some company at the All-Star Game this year – and he couldn’t be happier.
The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman has been a National League representative each of the past five seasons, but he’s never had more than one teammate on the squad with him.
Until this year. The resurgent D-backs have the third best record in baseball, with fellow All-Stars Jake Lamb, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray joining Goldschmidt in Miami.
“The way our team’s playing and being right in the playoff race, that’s where everyone wants to be,” Goldschmidt says. “You want to be in the playoffs and give yourself a chance to win the World Series. It’s been a good start but we know we have a long way to go.”
It’s been six years since the Diamondbacks last finished with a winning record and made the playoffs. Last year’s 93-loss season led to changes in both front office and the dugout for 2017.
“When (manager) Torey (Lovullo) came in the first day of spring training he said the outside world doesn’t believe in you guys after the season last year but we’re going to expect to win every time we step on the field,” Lamb says.
The biggest difference has been the pitching staff. After finishing with a major-league worst 5.09 ERA last season, the Diamondbacks have the second-best (3.41) this season.
“I feel like we’ve always had the talent there. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and guys kind of figuring it out,” Ray says. “It’s just a matter of everything coming together at the same time.”
The 25-year-old left-hander has been one of the most pleasant surprises.
He was dominant at times last season and was one of only a dozen pitchers to strike out at least 200 batters. However, his control has always been an issue.
Even though his walk rate has risen this season, Ray has overcome that by adding a curveball to his pitching repertoire.
“I always played catch with it, but I never used it in a game because I wasn’t confident in it,” Ray says.
“I felt like I needed another pitch and I’ve had that pitch my whole career, so I brought it back out.”
The results have been just what the Diamondbacks have needed – giving them a No. 2 starter to go with a bounce-back season Greinke, who Lamb calls “a true ace."
Ray has already tied his career high with eight wins and he ranks eighth in the majors with a 2.97 ERA, right behind Greinke’s 2.96.
Meanwhile, the offense is averaging over five runs per game – one of only seven teams in the majors to do that over the first half.
Goldschmidt has been outstanding, as usual. He’s hitting .312 with 20 homers, 67 RBI and a league-leading 73 runs scored.
“He’s a special baseball mind, and it’s not just hitting, it’s every part of the game,” Lamb says. “It’s been a huge help to my career to have him in the same clubhouse.”
Lamb has taken his game up a notch as well. He’s matched Goldschmidt’s homer and RBI totals exactly and provided the second half of a potent right-left combination in the middle of the lineup.
Like Ray, he showed some signs of a breakout last season. But this year, he’s put it all together.
“I just knew I could do better but my swing didn’t allow me to do so,” Lamb says. So he made some mechanical changes this offseason.
“My whole goal was to get my bat in the zone sooner and have a cleaner swing, bat path. I’ve done that so far and I’m just trying to continue to improve.”
That improvement from several key players has the Diamondbacks actually looking forward to what’s in store for the second half of the season.
“It’s disappointing when you’re struggling going into the second half and you can kinda see the writing on the wall,” says Goldschmidt, who’s reached the postseason just once in his major-league career – as a rookie in 2011.
“In the seasons when you know you have a chance, even if you’re behind a few games or you’re up, you’re looking forward to getting back out there competing.”
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