PHOENIX — In the new age, the Arizona Diamondbacks are a testament to an old saw — pitching and defense win games.
The Diamondbacks have the numbers to prove it.
On defense, they lead the National League in both the old school and new school math: They have the fewest errors (23) in the league and also have “saved” the most above an average defense (51), according to an advanced metric computed by BaseballReference.com.
The Diamondbacks are sixth in the league in team ERA (3.52) and first in bullpen ERA (2.53) and have won seven of their last eight games to regain a cushion atop the NL West.
They used both in an errorless 6-3 victory over the New York Mets in the first game of a four-game series at Chase Field on Thursday, when Brad Boxberger pitched the ninth inning for his 15th save in 17 chances.
The Mets have lost 11 of their last 12 games and 18 of 22.
Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Godley is scheduled to face Mets right-hander Seth Lugo in the second game of the series Friday. Lugo is filling in for Noah Syndergaard, who is on the disabled list because of an injury to his right index finger.
“Pitching and defense go hand-in-hand,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.
“The infielders are engaged and ready because the pitchers are attacking the zone. Pitching sets the tone for the entire day. The success of the defense has to be directly related to how our pitchers are throwing the ball. For the most part they have carried us. We’re prepared defensively.”
The Diamondbacks made a point of constructing a solid defense when it was clear slugger J.D. Martinez would not return. All of their starters grade out well above average in the “runs saved” metric, and reserve Jarrod Dyson — who has played almost regularly because of injuries to A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza Jr. — has saved seven runs himself while also taking away two homers.
“When we knew that J.D. wasn’t coming back, we were kind of working it the opposite way, building our team to save runs rather than maybe knocking in runs,” Lovullo said.
“If we aren’t making plays on defense, I feel they can’t be made period. When someone makes an error, it catches you by surprise. We raise the level of expectations here. When we go out and play the game, we expect guys to be great. They embrace that.”
Shortstop Nick Ahmed, second baseman Ketel Marte and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt have combined for just six errors this season, and all are ranked in the top half in “runs saved” at their respective positions. All three catchers are graded as above average, and Jeff Mathis has thrown out four of the eight runners attempting to steal while ranking near the top in pitching framing.
“Nicky and Ketel, those are two shortstops up the middle,” said Daniel Descalso, who has played first, second, third and left field for Arizona this season.
“So that is going to give us a good chance to make a lot of plays, turn a lot of double plates. Dyson and A.J. running it down in center field, it probably doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Diamondbacks have shifted their defensive alignment responsibly, and over-shifted third baseman Jake Lamb made a nice back-handed stop and throw from the hole at shortstop to retire Michael Conforto to open Thursday’s game. Center fielder Chris Owings tracked down a ball over his heard in the fourth inning and Ahmed started a force out on a ball in the hole in the fifth.
The Mets were hurt by a bullpen that gave up two homers in the eighth inning Thursday after giving up one in the eighth inning of a 2-0 loss at Atlanta on Wednesday.
“You just have to keep on putting guys in situations that gives them the best chance to succeed,” Mets manager Mickey Calloway. “That is all you can do. Those guys are working really hard in between their outings trying to get the issues they have solved and get into a better spot.”
Godley (6-5, 4.97 ERA) made a quality start against the Mets at Citi Field on May 18, giving up four hits and three runs (one earned) in six innings of a 3-1 loss to Jacob deGrom. That outing mirrored his career against the Mets — he is 1-2 with a 2.08 ERA in five appearances, including four starts, against them
Godley won his last start, giving up two runs and striking out eight over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-3 victory at Colorado on Sunday. He recovered from his least effective appearance of the season, when he gave up seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings of a 10-3 loss at San Francisco on June 4. He has been more effective at home this season, going 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA in five starts at Chase Field.
Lugo (2-1, 1.77) will be making his third start of the season, and he has not allowed a run yet in that role. He stuck out a season-high eight while giving up only two singles in six scoreless innings of a 2-0 victory against the Yankees on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. He gave up three hits in four scoreless innings against the Cubs on May 31 while making his first spot start in place of Syndergaard.
Lugo has made three career appearances against the Diamondbacks, all in relief, giving up one run in 5 1/3 innings. This season he pitched two scoreless innings in the Mets’ 5-4 victory over Arizona on May 19.