Opposite dugout: Diamondbacks have surprised early with productive offense

DiamondbacksLogo.jpgManager: Torey Lovullo (1st season)

Record: 16-11

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: RF David Peralta (.326 with 3 HR, 7 RBIs), SS Chris Owings (.311 with 4 HR, 19 RBIs), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.315 with 4 HR, 19 RBIs), LF Yasmany Tomás (5 HR, 20 RBIs), 3B Jake Lamb (5 HR, 21 RBIs), RHP Zack Greinke (2-2, 3.19 ERA), LHP Robbie Ray (2-1, 39 Ks)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (2-5 in 2016)

Pitching probables:

May 2: RHP Taijuan Walker vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
May 3: LHP Robbie Ray vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
May 4: RHP Zack Greinke vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Diamondbacks:

If you predicted a few weeks ago that the Diamondbacks would be challenging for the National League West lead as April turned into May, step to the head of the class. They're a half-game behind the division-leading Rockies, another surprise. After a disappointing 93-loss season that cost manager Chip Hale his job and led to a slew of changes in the front office, rookie skipper Torey Lovullo has the Snakes playing some surprisingly inspired baseball. So far, the recipe has been pretty simple: get on base, pressure the defense with the running game and score runs. The Diamondbacks rank first in the majors in stolen bases (32), and second in hits (253), and third in runs (141) and total bases (412). Of late, Diamondbacks pitchers have compiled 11 or more strikeouts in seven straight games, one shy of the major league record set by the Indians in September 2014. Their 252 whiffs as a staff top the majors, and pitchers are enjoying the third-best run support (5.27 runs per game).

Center fielder A.J. Pollock's recovery from a fractured right elbow is complete, and his return gives the D-backs a solid outfield threesome that are contributing offensively. Pollock is slashing .324/.366/.486, while right fielder David Peralta has a .326/.382/.511. Yasmany Tomás has settled into left field and seems to finally be displaying some of the immense talent that spurred the Snakes to sign him to a six-year, $68.5 million deal in December 2014; he's tied for the team lead with five homers and has driven in 20 runs. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt was a little slow out of the gate power-wise, but has rebounded with a .316/.422/.522 line that includes four homers and 19 RBIs. He's reached base safely in 10 straight games. Shortstop Chris Owings won the starting job in spring training and has surprised with a .311 average and 19 RBIs.

Tuesday starter Taijuan Walker, who frustrated the Mariners with his slow development and up-and-down performances before being traded to Arizona in the offseason, will be facing the Nationals for the first time in his career. He's coming off an 11-strikeout effort in a 6-2 win over the Padres on April 27. Walker isn't walking many batters - seven over four starts totaling 29 2/3 innings - and the eight innings he pitched in his most recent start represented a breakthrough for a guy who had only reached six innings once this season. The Nats know a little about lefty Robbie Ray, who draws the Wednesday night assignment. He was their property until being traded to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal in December 2013. Ray has developed into what the Nationals hoped he'd be: a strikeout machine. He's fanned 39 in 30 1/3 innings, but his 17 walks are a red flag. Opponents are hitting only .220 off Ray, but .318 with runners in scoring position. When he gets a strike on his first pitch, Ray holds foes to a .179 average. He's 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in two career starts against his former organization. Righty Zack Greinke starts the Thursday series finale and hopes to continue his mastery of the Nationals, against whom he's 5-1 with a 1.49 ERA in seven career starts. He's struggled on the road this season, going 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts. In his first 30 pitches of starts, opponents are hitting .151 (5-for-33); in his 31st to 45th offerings, foes are hitting .400 (6-for-15). After yielding 23 homers in 158 2/3 innings last year, Greinke has allowed only two longballs in 30 2/3 innings so far in 2017.

Arizona's 4.72 bullpen ERA isn't anything to write home about, but that number is inflated by closer Fernando Rodney's unsightly 12.60 ERA. Rodney has six saves in eight chances, but the imaginary arrow-shooting righty's 2.30 WHIP and general unreliability have sparked rumors of an imminent closer change. If that happens, look for righty J.J. Hoover (1.86 ERA) to get a crack at the role.

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