Arizona Diamondbacks; First Half Report Card

PHOENIX – When Arizona Diamondbacks’ right-hander Zac Gallen was honored to start the All-Star game, that gesture could be interpreted on two levels. First, this was a recognition of Gallen’s achievements over the past two seasons. More importantly, the designation could be regarded as a reward to the Arizona franchise for a very competitive opening half of the season.

Quickly, this game and what the Diamondbacks achieved will vanish through the rearview mirror. What’s ahead is the arduous task of maintaining the momentum of the opening months. At the same time, the challenge of keeping the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants at arm’s length will be formidable.

With all of the pitching concerns for Dave Roberts and his Dodgers’ staff, L. A. starts the second half in nearly a flat tie with Arizona. Plus, the Giants are 2.5 games behind. Coming into the second half, the Dodgers hold a two-percentage lead over the Diamondbacks and have two games in hand.

If the Diamondbacks are to maintain a competitive edge and challenge for a post-season position, there appears one glaring obstacle to overcome.

Given their talent and aggressiveness on the diamond, Arizona remains basically a young team and has only a sprinkle of veterans like Christian Walker, Even Longoria, Nick Ahmed, and Ketel Marte among achieving younger players. Given the majority of players who now enter their first, formal pennant race, their ability to achieve at a high level remains critical.

To that end, the Diamondbacks must learn to put teams away and win close games. Over the initial half of the season, that was not achieved.

In one-run games, the Diamondbacks are 12-13 and 1-3 in extra-inning games. Plus, they are 24-24 against winning teams.

Considered a weak link in the off-season, the bullpen has been uncertain and shaky, Many times, field manager Torey Lovullo told reporters, “I wish I had a shut-down guy like Mariano Rivera, but I don’t.” Instead, Lovullo has relied on the trio of Scott McGough, Andrew Chafin, and Miguel Castro as the critical back end. All have been inconsistent.

Perhaps the most glaring downfall occurred on July 5. In a game against the Mets in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks held a 1-0 lead into the ninth, Chafin allowed a game-tying homer to Francisco Alvarez and then a game-winning triple to Mark Canha. The result was a loss which demonstrated the imperative to close out games.

Until the back end of the bullpen can do just that, the Diamondback will likely struggle to keep pace with Dodgers and Giants.

While All-Stars Corbin Carroll, Lourdes Garcia, Jr., and Geraldo Perdomo help carry the team offensively, Walker’s season has been stellar. He continues to shine with the glove and could be on his way to a second straight Gold Glove. Offensive, he is hitting .265 at the break and that is considerably higher than his .242 from a year ago.

If the Diamondbacks are to continue their run atop of the NL West, the result would likely be psychological. Clearly, they have the physical weapons and growing confidence. “Success” will likely be demonstrated on a learning curve and how Arizona can put teams away. The experience of Chafin on July 5 should be a poster child on how the team, collectively, can raise the level of their game and remain highly competitive.

Gallen, as an All-Star … starting his first mid-summer classic, Gallen is also a first-time All-Star. His rise to the top of the NL pitching leaderboard is hardly a surprise to his teammates.

“His work ethic, his expectations for himself in executing certain situations is impressive,” said Christian Walker earlier this season. “He puts a great deal of pressure on himself in a good way. That is what makes him good. He expects the best out of himself.”

Next … the Diamondbacks open the second half in Toronto against the Jays. The temptation is to compare likely the most important off-season trade. In receiving Garcia, now an All-Star, and catcher Gabriel Moreno from the Jays, the Diamondback dealt outfielder Daulton Varsho. At the break, Garcia is hitting .263 and Moreno is hitting .269. In 89 games, Varsho is hitting .219.

In a road trip likely to test the Diamondbacks’ competitive edge and spirit, they open a nine-game journey. After three in Toronto, it’s six against division leaders, and include three in Atlanta and three in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks return to Chase Field on July 24 to face former teammate Paul Goldschmidt and the St. Louis Cardinals.

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