MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Lovullo a calming presence in postseason pursuit

Manager 'resonated well in the clubhouse,' 'model of consistency'

Lovullo a calming presence in postseason pursuit

PHOENIX -- In the middle of the fifth inning of Game No. 156 on Sunday, the D-backs told the 31,539 gathered at Chase Field what they were waiting to hear. The Cardinals and Brewers had lost.

Dress for October: Buy official D-backs postseason gear

The D-backs had clinched a National League Wild Card berth.

"Our season has just gone wild," the message read on the giant video board.

And so it has.

D-backs throw Chase Field pool party

Two hours later in the bottom of the ninth, J.D. Martinez hit a walk-off, bases-loaded single on one hop to the left-field wall, putting a stamp on the festivities. With the 3-2 win over the Marlins, the D-backs also clinched the No. 1 spot and home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game.

Martinez's walk-off single

 The D-backs will host it here Oct. 4. Win that one against either the Rockies, Cards or Brewers, and the sky for the postseason could be the limit.

Postseason schedule

"This isn't it," Martinez said. "They only get bigger from here. In my opinion, we're not in the playoffs, yet. Win that Wild Card Game, and then we're in it."

How They Got There: D-backs

Win that game and the D-backs would probably play the Dodgers in an NL Division Series beginning Oct. 6 in Los Angeles. Be that as it may, the D-backs got back to the postseason for the first time since 2011 a lot sooner than anybody could have anticipated.

Division standings | Wild Card standings

No matter what happens, the season already has to be considered wildly successful.

"The hardest part has been getting here," said first-year manager Torey Lovullo in the midst of the clubhouse champagne spray fest. "You're right. We've had a great year, but there's still more of the story to be told. And who knows?"

The D-backs were 69-93 last year and with 90 wins have already exceeded that mark by 21 games. They have six games left to do even better.

The wildly disappointing 2016 season, coming after the signing of free agent right-hander Zack Greinke to a six-year $206.5 million contract, led to the dismissals of the entire baseball operations staff: Tony La Russa, who now has a lesser role with the D-backs, Dave Stewart, De Jon Watson and manager Chip Hale.

In their stead, the D-backs dipped into the Boston organization for general manager Mike Hazen, who brought along Red Sox bench coach Lovullo with him to replace Hale.

Lovullo on 13-game win streak

Since 2003, the Red Sox have built a winning tradition, Hazen having worked under general managers Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski on teams that captured the World Series title three times. Lovullo was the bench coach under manager John Farrell for six seasons, the first two in Toronto, four more in Boston ending in 2016.

Together, Hazen and Lovullo had subordinate roles when Boston won the 2013 World Series, beating St. Louis in six games.

The winning has continued in Arizona with virtually the same roster that under-produced in 2016, save for some important additions.

"I don't think we really brought something here from anywhere else," Hazen said. "We had some good players here that for whatever reason didn't jell last year. We're very grateful for the work done by all the guys who came before us -- Stew and K.T. [Kevin Towers] and Josh Byrnes to bring some of these great players here.

"And then Torey and the staff did a great job pulling it all together."

To be sure, Hazen and Lovullo inherited Greinke, Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Jake Lamb and David Peralta, to name just a few.

Goldschmidt's three-run moonshot

But during the offseason, Hazen traded second baseman Jean Segura to Seattle for right-hander Taijuan Walker, who solidified the back end of the rotation. He signed veteran free-agent closer Fernando Rodney, who has had a heart-stopping season blowing six games, but saving 39 others.

Rodney's 300th career save

And on July 18, Hazen made the move of the summer by obtaining the right-handed power-hitting Martinez from the Tigers for three Minor Leaguers. Martinez has since hit 27 of his 43 homers, including a rare four-homer performance at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 4. His 14 homers in September is the most in any month by a D-backs player.

"When I got here, I told them that 'You guys have a really good clubhouse,'" Martinez said. "The clubhouse has been great from that moment. Very supportive, and things like that. So, this is very exciting."

Meanwhile, Greinke, who is projected to start the Wild Card Game, bounced back from a 13-7, 4.37 ERA, 2016 season to Cy Young Award consideration this year. He's 17-6 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA and 0.957 WHIP at home in what has been ranked the second-best hitter's ballpark in the Majors behind Coors Field.

Greinke's Cy Young chances?

Goldschmidt had his fifth All-Star season batting third in the lineup, and all his numbers have either matched or are close to matching career highs. His 36 homers and 120 RBIs. His slash line of .306/.412/.579 and .991 OPS.

Statcast: Goldy's long slam

Perhaps more important, Lovullo has had a calm demeanor and steady hand, working his way into the discussion for NL Manager of the Year honors along with Washington's Dusty Baker, Colorado's Bud Black, the Dodgers' Dave Roberts and the Cubs' Joe Maddon.

The players bought into Lovullo's program from the start of Spring Training, and when the team ran off to an unexpected 53-36 first half, the transition from 2016 was truly complete.

"He's done a fantastic job. From Day 1, he's been the model of consistency," Hazen said. "That's resonated well in the clubhouse. You can see how excited everybody is, and they deserve it. They deserve this time to celebrate. But this obviously isn't the only step we want to take. We're looking forward to bigger and better things."

The regular season push is behind them. That pursuit will begin in 10 days.

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.