Atlanta reaps benefits from 2015 trade with Arizona

PHOENIX — After signing Zack Greinke in late 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a trade designed to turn them into an instant contender.

It did not work as intended, but Atlanta is not complaining.

The Braves acquired Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, adding them to a group of veterans and up-and-coming young players who helped make the Braves relevant again.

After finishing a combined 71 games below .500 in the previous three seasons, the Braves have a 3 1/2-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East entering the final game of a four-game series on Sunday in Arizona.

Inciarte and Swanson — the principles sent from Arizona to Atlanta for right-hander Shelby Miller in a deal that was widely panned at the time — have helped.

Inciarte leads the Braves and is fifth in the NL with 25 stolen bases. Swanson has 55 RBIs for a team that is second in the NL in runs.

Miller has missed most of the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Swanson threw out the potential tying run at the plate in the Braves’ 5-4, 10-inning victory on Saturday.

“Everybody knows the last couple of years have not been the best around here, but to be in this situation now is great,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said.

“I’ve been through it all, so this is great when you start winning again. It is kind of like when I just got called up. We were winning all the time. We have the right group of people in this clubhouse to hopefully carry us into the postseason.”

Another former Diamondbacks prospect, right-hander Touki Toussaint (1-1), is scheduled to make his third career start Sunday opposite Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray (5-2) as the teams shoot for a series split.

Toussaint, like Swanson a Diamondbacks first-round draft pick, was traded to Atlanta in mid-2015 along with veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo and his $9.5 million contract when management ordered a payroll cut.

“It feels great to be a part of this,” Enciarte said. “The goal is to play meaningful games in September. You see new guys, but you see everybody developing quick. It wasn’t bad years at all.

“I know the Diamondbacks are in a great position. We are in a good position, too. Both teams are winning, and I know we are happy with what we have. We don’t look back on what happened because we believe everything happens for a reason. We’re here where we want to be, and we want to be a part of this for a long time.”

The Diamondbacks begin a seven-game road trip with the opener of a four-game series in Colorado on Monday, part of a schedule that could include a major league-record 17 straight games against division leaders. They play Colorado twice, Houston and the Chicago Cubs in the next two weeks.

“September baseball, when you are in a pennant race is pressure enough,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.

“So I don’t want any situation to override how they perform. How do I do that? Different ways with different guys. Distract them. Make them smile. Make them laugh. Make them remember how good they are and how fun the game is when you are doing your job.”

Atlanta has seven games remaining against Philadelphia and three against St. Louis.

Ray, who has a 4.25 ERA in 19 starts, gets the start after his most effective outing of the season, a 6-0 victory in which he struck out 10 and gave up two singles in 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

“My last two starts are about as mechanically sound as I’ve felt all year,” Ray said. “It’s a combination of my direction to the plate and my tempo. Just getting the ball back, getting back on the mound and going. I think that’s the biggest thing, not too much time between pitches.”

Ray, who missed two months because of an oblique injury, is 2-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last three starts. He had a good feel for his curveball in the victory over the Padres.

“I think I have thrown it more often lately because it is a pitch I feel I can also land (in the strike zone) but also bounce,” Ray said.

Ray has lost both of his career starts against Atlanta with a 4.82 ERA.

Toussaint beat Miami in his first major league start on Aug. 13 and lost his most recent, an 8-2 defeat to Boston last Sunday in which gave up three runs and struck out six in 4 2/3 innings. He threw four scoreless innings before the Red Sox knocked him out in the fifth.

“I haven’t liked him, I’ve loved him,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.

“He’s very impressive young man. Very impressive player. Carries himself very well. Love his assortment. His arsenal is very good. He’s a very athletic kid. He’s handled himself tremendous in the two starts he’s hard here.”

Toussaint was 9-6 in 24 minor league starts this season, going 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA in eight starts with Triple-A Gwinnett.

He has not appeared fazed by being thrust into a pennant race.

“He faced the best team in baseball the other day and did a really good job,” Snitker said. “The maturity, the game awareness, how he’s handled himself. The whole thing has been very impressive.”