MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Road work ahead for D-backs

Away from Chase Field, Arizona last in Majors in runs scored, RBIs

Road work ahead for D-backs

PHOENIX -- The D-backs have soared past the quarter-pole mark of the 2017 season, and with Memorial Day on the horizon, they have played much better than expected.

At 29-19 after Wednesday's 8-6 series sweep of the White Sox at Chase Field, the D-backs are 10 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. And D-backs fans know what happened that season. Their club won the National League West title.

The next 25 games of 2017 could determine whether the D-backs are contenders or pretenders. Nineteen games are on the road, where Arizona is averaging 3.6 runs a game and is 8-11. In contrast, the D-backs have dominated at home, where they are 21-8, averaging six runs a game.

The D-backs embark on an 11-game, 11-day trip through Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Miami -- beginning against the Brewers on Thursday night -- as winners of eight of their last nine games overall.

"I know that our road record isn't perfect," first-year manager Torey Lovullo said after the three-game sweep Wednesday. "But I think they've got to resist doing anything differently than they've done all season. I think that the worm will turn on the road. We have a long, extended road trip. Let's play how we've been playing, and see how that lands us when we get back on June 5."

Their road play, obviously, has been in stark contrast to their play at home. Take note, that three of their eight road wins came in San Diego against a Padres team that has a .340 winning percentage, Major League Baseball's worst, and is 14 games back in the NL West, heading into Wednesday night.

The four-game series at Miller Park is Arizona's first look at the Brewers, who likewise are a surprise to lead a tight NL Central race in which five games separate all five teams. The Pirates and Marlins are both sub-.500 at the moment. Thus, the D-backs have an opportunity to make hay on this trip. If not now, when?

"I really don't have a good answer," said Chris Owings, who on Wednesday played right field. "We're just trying to go out there every day and win a ballgame, whether it's at home or on the road. It's not like we're trying to lose. So, I don't know. We're trying to play good every place that we go."

To be sure, the D-backs took advantage of an early schedule heavily weighted with home games -- 29 of their first 48 at hitter-friendly Chase, 21 against teams in their division.

Lovullo urged his club to set a pattern at home and take advantage of the cozy confines. That they did. At home, they're second in the Majors with a .295 team batting average and lead with 175 runs scored, 47 homers and 166 RBIs.

That resulted in the D-backs winning or tying eight of their first nine home series, their only loss was dropping two of three April 28-30 to the Rockies, the team barely ahead of them in the division.

Strangely enough, last year the D-backs were 33-48 at Chase Field on the way to a 93-loss season.

"You guys were asking us the same questions, only it was why weren't we playing good at home?" Owings said. "And now we're playing good at home, so it's kind of ironic."

This time the questions are about the road, where they are 26th among the 30 teams with a .223 team batting average, 28th with 20 homers, and dead last with 69 runs scored and 65 RBIs.

Lovullo said the sample size of 48 games is large enough to perceive there might be a problem. But he's confident the team will be able to overcome it.

"I feel like we need to do better, I think we can do better," Lovullo said. "If you're asking me do I think we will? The answer's going to be yes."

He said when he looked at the schedule during Spring Training, he viewed the opening homestand against the Giants and Indians as a must-win way to start the season. The D-backs responded by taking six of seven games. At the time, Lovullo conjured the metaphor of having used that initial week to place the first brick in the wall.

He said that even back then, he viewed this coming road trip as an important juncture in the building process.

"I look at it, and say that we still have three-quarters of a season to overcome that [3.6] runs a game we're scoring on the road," Lovullo said. "I'm aware of it. I see it. I think we're going to figure out how to do it. Now if it's August, September and it's the same thing, we're going to have to figure out how to manage playing on the road a little bit differently.

"This road trip right here is the one I looked at just like everybody else. We're going to have to go out there and compete, and do our job and show our face a little bit, show our toughness. I expect us to do that."

Asked about the brick metaphor, Lovullo said that the D-backs now had already placed three or four in place. By the time the next 25 days are over they will know whether it's on to the next level.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.