PHOENIX — As the Arizona Diamondbacks have surged this postseason, manager Torey Lovullo has heard a similar question: Do you think you guys deserve to be here?
Even with the Diamondbacks blitzing the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers to reach the National League Championship Series, it’s a fair question. The Diamondbacks played well in the early summer months only to stumble in July. They followed with a strong push in September, only to lose their final four of the regular season, backing into the National League playoffs with 84 wins, tied with the Miami Marlins for the lowest of any postseason participant.
Nevertheless, Lovullo, in his seventh season managing the Diamondbacks, has always answered the question in the same manner. “Hell, yeah, I do.”
Friends ask if the question makes him mad. The answer is no. “I get angry at the weirdest things,” said Lovullo, 58, who then showed his age. “When something electronic is supposed to work. You open it up and turn it on and it’s supposed to go on every single time. Or when you’re in the middle of a really important phone call and your call gets dropped. Like, ‘Are you serious?’’’
That doesn’t mean Lovullo isn’t paying attention.
“It kind of makes me laugh, but I will say it motivates me personally,” Lovullo said Friday of the question. “I know it motivates our team. And as a very, very famous college football coach who’s having a tremendous amount of success and is coaching his butt off with his players behind him says, we’re keeping receipts. I’ll leave it at that.”
Yes, Lovullo is a Deion Sanders fan.
“How can you not be?” he said. “He’s turned that (Colorado) program around in five minutes. Who does that in college sports?”
Lovullo shares Sanders’ optimism.
The Diamondbacks have not reversed course with the same acceleration as Sanders’ Buffaloes, but they’re ahead of schedule all the same. They’ve won in different ways, showing maturity beyond their years. In the wild-card round, the Diamondbacks twice rallied from deficits to beat the Brewers. In the division series, they never trailed against the Dodgers.
When you mess around with the Snakes and find out. 👀 pic.twitter.com/6897q0xRsS
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) October 12, 2023
Up next in the NLCS: The Philadelphia Phillies, who just took out the top-seeded Atlanta Braves in one of the best home environments in baseball. Since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, the Phillies have a .703 postseason winning percentage, the best by any team in any stadium in postseason history, per MLB.com (minimum 20 games).
Arizona will start ace Zac Gallen in Monday’s Game 1. Merrill Kelly is scheduled for Tuesday’s Game 2. From there, Lovullo said the Diamondbacks would figure things out. Arizona this season went 3-4 against the Phillies. Two losses came in extra innings. All seven contests came in the season’s first half.
To prepare for Game 1, the Diamondbacks piped in crowd noise for Friday’s workout at Chase Field. To stay sharp, they played a 6-inning, simulated game with instructions to go “full throttle” for the first three. No one seemed concerned about the layoff — a topic during this postseason — nor the crowd.
“Look, we all know the atmosphere in Philly is going to be crazy,’’ veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. “It’s the postseason. We’re the last four teams left. There’s going to be pressure. There’s going to be things said that you probably wouldn’t say anywhere else and you probably shouldn’t say even at a baseball game. And I think we’re prepared for that.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” relief pitcher Kevin Ginkel said. “I got thick skin. The atmosphere there, I’ve played there before. They’re playing hot just like we are. There’s a lot to be excited about. We’re a young team. We’re dangerous. We (have) a lot of different ways to beat you, and I think that should scare some teams.”
The key might be a fast start, something the Diamondbacks did in the division series against the Dodgers, jumping to leads of 6-0 and 3-0 in Los Angeles. It set the stage for the series. And it boosted Arizona’s confidence.
“You know, there were 60,000 people waving blue towels this week, and then they weren’t waving them much after the first inning,” closer Paul Sewald told reporters. “And that really made Dodger Stadium a lot more easy environment to pitch in and to play in. If we jump on them, it will be a lot easier to play downhill.”
On a neighborhood walk Friday, Lovullo said people stopped him four or five times. He thanked them for their support. When he walked into the media room that afternoon, Lovullo touched the NLCS backdrop. He’s enjoying every second of this. Throughout the regular season, the Diamondbacks had “young moments,” he said. That happens. But that has not been the case for a while.
The Diamondbacks belong.
“Look, everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Lovullo said. “If I were to listen and believe and pay attention to all those things, I would be in a straitjacket somewhere. I’ve got a job to do, and that’s stay positive. That’s who I am at my core.”
(Photo of the Diamondbacks celebrating a win over the Phillies in Philadelphia in May: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)