Record: 10-7. Pace: 95-67. Change on 2022: +4.
Remember when Pavin Smith was almost persona non grata on the Diamondbacks’ team? At one point, he looked to be the future of the team at first-base. But then Christian Walker happen, and Smith didn’t with an OPS of just 95 across 220 games in 2021-22. He couldn’t even make the roster on Opening Day this year, being consigned to Reno in favor of Kyle Lewis. But Smith got his chance as Lewis proved to be a better source of wind-power than a hitter, and has seized the chance with both hands. Tonight’s grand-slam - the first in Pavin’s career - adds another notch to his redemption bed-post, and gives him a line for the season, across six games, of .333/.400/.667 for an OPS of 1.067. So far, so good...
That slam proved decisive in a game which the D-backs never trailed. Indeed, Arizona wasted no time getting on the board: three pitches in, and the Diamondbacks had a 1-0 lead. Josh Rojas doubled off the base of the wall in left-field and then Ketel Marte drove Rojas home with an RBI single on the first pitch he saw. This “winning baseball games” thing is pretty easy, isn't it? Well, it didn’t last, and the game immediately turned into a grind for the D-backs’ hitters. After getting two hits before an out was recorded, they wouldn't get their next until the seventh inning. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though, shall we?
This lack of hits was not, at least in some cases, for a want of trying. Especially hard done-by was Corbin Carroll. He looked to have drawn his first walk of the season, as a 3-0 pitch sailed high and outside (pitch #4 above). Manny Gonzalez, the home-plate umpire, decided otherwise. Carroll then blasted the next pitch down the first-base line, with an exit velocity of 111.1 mph. That's the second-hardest ball hit by a Diamondback this year, trailing only a Ketel Marte double on April 3rd (113.5 mph). It had an expected batting average of .810. It went right for an out to the Cardinals' first-baseman. No, it wasn't HIM. He had the day off.
We should also discuss Manny Gonzalez in more detail. Because he blew chunks, with a strike-zone which was both inaccurate and inconsistent. Christian Walker and Geraldo Perdomo were both strikeout victims, more due to Gonzalez's incompetence than any skill of the opposing pitcher. If you compare the called strike given to Merrill Kelly and the Cardinals’ starter, Jack Flaherty (below), the difference could not be more clear. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s Ump Scorecard, which will hopefully be available in a format suitable for framing. Though fortunately, Gonzalez did not prove to the deciding factor in tonight’s contest.
The early innings proceeded at lightning speed, helped by double-plays on both sides of the ball and starting pitchers who got early outs. We were through five innings in only around 65 minutes, and this had a shot at being the first D-backs road victory to be completed in under two hours (well, discounting the six-inning win over the Nationals back in 2016, where Shelby Miller pitched a “complete game” shutout). However, things ground to a halt in the sixth. With one out, Brendan Donovan bunted his way on - Kelly has Walker to thank his throw stayed on the infield - and Kelly was then called for a balk, after failing to come to a complete stop during his motion. That’s a big thing these days.
One out later, Merrill uncorked a wild pitch, and was then basically worn down by Wilson Contreras, who fouled off five pitches with two strikes, before almost driving the 10th pitch of the at-bat out of the park. He settled for an RBI double, tying the game at one. Kelly’s velocity was dropping as the 27-pitch frame took its toll, and he was done for the night at the end of the inning, getting Nolan Arenado to go down swinging with his final pitch. Still, it was a very solid outing: six innings of one-run ball, on five hits, with no walks and three strikeouts. He deserved to get the decision, and Ketel Marte then put Kelly back in the line for the win, homering to lead off the top of the seventh, his second of 2023.
Lourdes Gurriell doubled, and Christian Walker walked, which ended Flaherty’s night. The Cardinals bullpen entered the game and was... very nice for the D-backs. First up was Carroll, who took four straight balls for his first walk of the season, loading the bases. It ended Corbin’s walkless streak to start the season at 62 PA, the longest from Opening Day by a Diamondback since Ildemaro Vargas went 75 PA to begin 2019. That loaded the bases for Smith and, having read this far, and perhaps clicked “play” on the video above, you’ll be aware he hit his first home-run in the big leagues since June 19th last year. I’m sure that felt pretty good for Pavin. I quite enjoyed it too.
That was basically it. The D-backs bullpen were relatively drama free over the final three innings. After Miguel Castro worked a scoreless eighth, recent acquisition Jose Ruiz pitched the eighth and allowed his contractually obligated home-run. No, seriously. That’s four outings in a row, including two with the White Sox, where Ruiz has been taken deep. For what it’s worth, Taylor Clarke once allowed homers in six consecutive relief outings for Arizona, but they covered a total of 15.1 inning. Ruiz has allowed five HR in 4.0 frames. That matches the return by Heath Bell in June 2013, and it would not surprise me if Ruiz was the victim to make room for Joe Mantiply. who is now apparently with the taxi squad.
With the score 6-3, Andrew Chafin came in and restored order, getting his third save of the year. With nobody else having more than one, it may still be a committee, but it looks like Chafin is the head of the committee. The D-backs were outhit 6-5 by the Cardinals; Marte had two of those six, while Smith also walked in addition to his big blow. The win keeps the D-backs in sole possession of first place in the NL West, with the margin to be decided by other results, with the Padres and Dodgers both playing at home as I write.
Click here for details, at Fangraphs.com
King of Hearts: Ketel Marte, +26.0%
Jokers: Kelly, +17.1%; Smith, +11.6%
Ace of Spades: Gabriel Moreno, -5.9%
Thanks to those who showed up in the Gameday Thread! While grumbling about the ump proved most popular, I’m giving comment of the thread to Jack:
Same two teams tomorrow in St. Louis, with Drey Jameson starting for the D-backs, and the first pitch due at 4:45 pm. Hopefully, this D-backs team can continue to surprise and impress.