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Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #6: Torey Lovullo

The hot-seat skipper took his team all the way to the World Series.

Texas Rangers v. Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Overview

Rating: 8.7

This is a far cry from the mediocre rating of 6.15 that Torey Lovullo achieved at the end of last season.

2023 Results:
84-78
2nd in NL West
Eliminated in Game 5 of World Series

Season Review:
Torey Lovullo entered the 2023 season as a lame duck manager who had only middling support from the fan base. Having finished the 2022 season with only 74 wins and not being a competitive team for the better part of the entire season, there were many who questioned the logic of retaining Lovullo, whose key coaching attribute is player development. Still, a 22-win improvement over the abysmal 2021 was nothing to scoff at. Furthermore, there is something to be said for organizational stability. It also helped Lovullo’s case to remain when Mike Hazen stepped up and took responsibility for not assembling a good enough roster for Lovullo to make use of. The overall result was that Lovullo entered the season on a short leash with many fans expecting him to be sacked by the all-star break.

Torey Lovullo had other plans.

By the end of June, the Diamondback were 15 games over .500 and sat in first place in the NL West. On 1 July, they reached their season-high mark of 16 games over .500 and were still three games in front of the Dodgers. It was during the final two weeks of June that saw fan attitudes start to shift drastically. No longer was the primary narrative for the team to improve to a .500 team with an outside shot at a low-level playoff berth. Instead, the focus evolved to expecting a playoff berth. Furthermore, there were even the smallest shreds of hope that Arizona could contend with the Dodgers for the division.

Then the bi-polar month of July happened. When the Diamondbacks were good (which was not very often) they managed to squeak out victories. This includes the game on 18 July when the team scored a season-high 16 runs (and only managed to win by three, which all came in the decisive ninth inning. When the team was going poorly (which was basically the entire month) things went very poorly, the team losing by four or more runs six times in only 24 games. Things did not get better when the calendar switched to August either, as the team dropped nine in a row to open the month. This included one of the four times the team lost by 10 or more runs and also marked their longest losing stretch of the season. The streak ended on 11 August and the Diamondbacks found themselves having dropped from 16 games over to 2 games under .500 (the most behind they would be all season long).

At this point, the Dodgers had finally righted their ship and were off and running. The NL West was a pipe-dream. Making the playoffs was also becoming something along the lines of wishful thinking. The pitchforks were once again coming out, with many faulting Lovullo’s bullpen management for the dive, even though the team (overall) was still in a good position, all things considered. There are certainly some notes that point to bullpen usage as being a key contributor to the team’s mid-season woes. For the season, the team blew 38 leads and were walked off on four occasions.

However, the arrival of Paul Sewald at the trade deadline, along with the acquisition of Ryan Thompson just before the roster deadline fundamentally changed the bullpen that Torey Lovullo had to work with. Coming out of the 9-game losing streak, the Diamondbacks returned to finding ways to win individual series. In fact, they managed to tie the season-high win streak at six games and would have been better still if not for some poor bullpen performances from the likes of Nabil Crismatt.

Entering the final month of the season, the Diamondbacks found themselves right back in the playoff hunt and remained in control of their own destiny. Yet, as the season neared the end, the team found itself again struggling to win the games it needed to in order to put the dagger in the opposition. After sweeping the Cubs at home in Phoenix in the middle of the month, the Diamondbacks needed to go 6-5 down the stretch to remain masters of their own fate. Instead, the team went 5-6, including five losses against the Yankees and then three more against the Houston Astros to close out the season. As such, the Diamondbacks backed into the playoffs, securing the final Wild Card as they watched another losing effort from the dugout.

That’s when things got interesting.

After a hot start, followed by a mediocre second half, the expectations for Arizona as they entered the playoffs were modest at best. The goal, according to fans, was to be competitive. The Diamondbacks were that - and then some. They swept the Brewers in Milwaukee for the Wild Card round. Then, they swept the Dodgers in the NLDS, hanging six runs on Clayton Kershaw in the opening inning of the series. Then they beat the Phillies in seven games to win the NLCS, claiming their second NL Pennant in franchise history. Among the many stories that drove the team’s postseason success was Lovullo’s tendency to push the right buttons at just the right time, not just with pinch-hitting and lineup selections, but also with bullpen usage. The NLCS came down as much to Torey Lovullo out-managing Rob Thompson as it did to anything else.

In the World Series, Lovullo stuck with the plan, but Paul Sewald finally faltered, blowing a save in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the series. While the team bounced back, the series exposed Arizona’s lack of depth and Lovullo’s magic touch seemed to have finally run out of pixie dust.

Yet, even in defeat, this is a team that could hold its head high. They were never supposed to make the playoffs, much less the World Series. Of their 84 wins, 43 were of the comeback variety. This show that Lovullo was able to keep his team focused and to overcome early-game difficulties. It shows he kept attitudes up and helped to develop a team filled with resilience. While it is true that Lovullo had a few clunkers during the season, it also remains true that the team, despite having a terrible bullpen for more than half the season, also managed to win about 10 games they probably should not have, further testament to Lovullo pushing the right buttons and the team remaining in a positive headspace, allowing them to take advantage of late opportunities when they availed themselves.

Lovullo managed this, despite having an extended stretch during which Gabriel Moreno had no viable back-up catcher whilst Carson Kelly was injured. This led to Moreno starting to break down in the midst of a playoff hunt. Lovullo also managed this despite Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies accounting for 40% of the early-season starts, combined with a bullpen that at some points in the season featured no more than one or two MLB-caliber arms. Lovullo, along with Brent Strom, Dave McKAy, and others also managed to continue developing the young core of players that now serve as the foundation for future Diamondbacks teams. Corbin Carroll won Rookie of the Year. Gabriel Moreno developed from being a hot catching prospect to being one of the best catchers in the entire game. Brandon Pfaadt went from being a nice story and potential swingman to being the Game 3 starter of the World Series. Zac Gallen was a Cy Young candidate until the final 10 days or so of the season. While these accolades do come down to the performance of the players involved, it was Lovullo and his staff that put these players in the positions to succeed in the ways they did.

Outlook

Once the Diamondbacks reached 82 wins, ensuring they would finish the season over .500, Lovullo’s future seemed much brighter. The second-half struggles and backing into the playoffs still had some questioning whether or not Lovullo had the chops to manage a playoff caliber team. Those questions were largely laid to rest during the Diamondbacks whirlwind run to the World Series. Once the dust settled, Lovullo was left holding a shiny new contract extension that will keep him in Arizona through the end of the 2026 season. With the front office electing to make some heavy investments in the team’s roster this winter, hopes are high that Lovullo will continue to enjoy substantial success and earn himself another extension before he enters another lame duck season.