The 5: Diamondbacks storylines to watch in the season’s second half

Jul 20, 2018, 3:26 PM
Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher, left, and manager Torey Lovullo watch as relief p...
Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher, left, and manager Torey Lovullo watch as relief pitcher Jorge De La Rosa struggles while facing Colorado Rockies' Gerardo Parra during the second inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Arizona Diamondbacks are at the so-called “halfway” point of their season. Numerically, they have fewer than half of their regular season games left to play, but the All-Star break has come and gone and served as an important milestone in the season’s grind.

Now, it’s time for a race to the finish.

As the D-backs enter post-All-Star play on Friday, they sit a half game back behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. Their record of 53-44 is the sixth-best mark in the National League, and if the season ended now, they would finish third in the Wild Card — just outside of the final playoff spot.

To see if the D-backs improve their standing and make a second consecutive playoff appearance, keep your eye on these five things in their remaining 65 games:

Can Arizona’s rotation withstand the road ahead?

Arizona’s starting rotation has been in flux in more ways than one this season.

That dates even as far back as spring training when Patrick Corbin — not Zack Greinke — was named as the Opening Day starter as Greinke’s spring was thrown off slightly by a minor groin issue. From there, the D-backs lost Taijuan Walker to Tommy John surgery, went without Robbie Ray for a time, saw the return of Shelby Miller for only four games, called up a few different starters to fill rotation spots and so on.

Now more than ever, consistency is important.

With Corbin, Ray and Greinke all healthy, the D-backs have a trio of arms at the top of their rotation in some order. Zack Godley owns a 4.61 ERA this year and has had stretches where he has been lights out, but has allowed five or more earned runs in four of his 20 starts this year.

The D-backs will most likely look to Clay Buchholz and, if necessary, Matt Koch, to fill a fifth spot in the rotation.

Does the D-backs bullpen continue its first-half success?

Arizona has enjoyed one of the best bullpens in MLB this season, at one point leading the majors in nearly every statistical category. Coming out of the break, D-backs relievers own a 2.85 ERA, the best such mark in the National League and third-best in baseball. It would behoove the team significantly for that to continue.

While T.J. McFarland is on the 10-day DL with neck stiffness, the Arizona relief corps is otherwise healthy. In fact, one pitcher, Randall Delgado, who was injured when this season began, has since returned from his ailment. And four Diamondbacks relievers — Andrew Chafin, Archie Bradley, Yoshi Hirano and Silvino Bracho — own ERAs below 3.00.

Does the D-backs offense carry its share of the workload?

The D-backs offense was notoriously bad at the beginning of the year, due in part to injuries and underperformance from several key players, including Paul Goldschmidt. At one time, their batting average was the worst in MLB, but has since improved to 28th overall at .229 coming out of the break.

Part of the improvement has come from Goldschmidt himself, who had a .198 batting average as recently as May 22 but has since improved it to .281 and is hitting .377 in the month of July.

Arizona has no batters hitting above .300, and multiple position players are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Who are the real Los Angeles Dodgers?

Los Angeles had bullpen issues in the beginning of the season and was in fourth place in the NL West on May 27 with a 24-28 record. Since then, they’ve climbed all the way up into first place and have seen the return of Clayton Kershaw from injury.

The Dodgers currently have the 13th-ranked bullpen ERA (3.80), the second-ranked starting rotation ERA (3.31) and the 20th-ranked offense (.244) in MLB. Adding Manny Machado ought to boost that offense, which is missing All-Star shortstop Corey Seager (Tommy John).

To begin the second half of the season, it appears as though LA could be the team to beat if Arizona wants to win its division.

How does the rest of the NL Wild Card picture work out?

Current division leaders Philadelphia and Chicago, along with their close contenders in Milwaukee and Atlanta, are among several teams well within the picture for the two NL Wild Card spots as the calendar approaches August. If Arizona doesn’t win its division, they still may have to deal with NL West foes San Francisco and Colorado, who are in the Wild Card picture, as well.

Those six teams — the Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Braves, Giants and Rockies — are among the teams to watch if Los Angeles holds its division lead and Arizona is forced to compete for the Wild Card.

The D-backs are currently 3.5 games up on San Francisco and 1.5 game up on the Rockies, trailing the Braves by half a game for the second Wild Card spot (the same margin by which they trail for the division lead).

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The 5: Diamondbacks storylines to watch in the season’s second half