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D-backs back at .500 following missed opportunity vs Brewers

Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Ketel Marte makes a running catch on a ball hit by Milwaukee Brewers' Lorenzo Cain during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — This was supposed to be the weekend where the Arizona Diamondbacks established themselves as bona fide wild card contenders. A four-game series against the team directly in front of them in the race presented an opportunity to climb into one of those top two spots and silence anyone suggesting they should be sellers at the deadline.

It didn’t work out that way, though.

Alex Young had the first rough outing of his Major League career, serving up a grand slam to Tyler Saladino, as the D-backs fell to the Milwaukee Brewers by a final of 7-4 in front of 33,111 fans at Chase Field on Sunday.

Young entered the game with a remarkable 0.96 ERA and just six total hits allowed in his first 18.2 innings of Major League work. He had also picked up wins in each of his first three starts, emerging as exactly the type of unlikely hero that tends to show up on playoff contenders.

He couldn’t stay perfect forever, though, and things just never looked right on Sunday.

“Well he was struggling all game with his command,” Alex Avila explained. “Really struggling just throwing strikes today. He was battling, fighting himself a little bit today.”

Young managed to grind through the first 3.2 innings unscathed while his teammates built him a 4-0 cushion. Avila led the way with his 100th career homer. But the control issues caught up to Young in the fourth.

Following a conference on the mound with the bases loaded, his 76th pitch of the day ended up in the left field seats. That tied the game at 4-4, giving Saladino his first home run – and first four RBIs – of the season.

“Obviously he’s got home run potential, but it’s really the last thing that you’re thinking about,” Torey Lovullo pointed out. “It might’ve just flattened us for a couple of innings.”

Arizona couldn’t push another runner across the plate, and the bullpen faltered yet again. This time it was Yoan Lopez, who surrendered three runs while recording just two outs. After a dominant first three months of the season, the 26-year-old righty has been tagged for eight earned runs in just 6.1 innings in July.

In all, the D-backs’ bullpen allowed 16 runs over the four games against Milwaukee.

“It’s a lot of runs,” Lovullo acknowledged. “And it’s more than we’re used to giving up. Our bullpen’s been spot on in a number of key situations, and I want them to turn that around.

“I want them to step up and say ‘now’s the time that I’ve got to go out and execute a gameplan’, and we’re going to figure out a way to turn this around because they’re better than that.”

Maybe it’s not as simple as one series defining the entire season, but losing three of four to the Brewers certainly doesn’t help. Lovullo’s group is now 2.5 games back of a wild card spot with just nine days to go before the trade deadline. And now they’re back at .500 yet again, just when it looked like they might have a chance to start building a winning record.

The deadline, of course, is the elephant in the room at the moment. A 2.5 game deficit is far from insurmountable, especially for a club that has already bounced back on a number of occasions this year. And there are still 62 games left on the schedule. That’s a lifetime in baseball.

Problem is, general manager Mike Hazen is going to have to make some difficult decisions in the next week and a half. If this isn’t a playoff team, they should probably try to get something in return for guys like Greg Holland and Adam Jones – players that are only signed with the club through the end of this season and could potentially help a World Series contender.

Ultimately, those might be the easier choices. The real question is what happens with David Peralta and Robbie Ray? If you believe the rumors floating around the internet in the last few days (Everything on the internet is always true, so why wouldn’t you?), there are teams willing to pay a pretty hefty price for Ray. And while Peralta likely wouldn’t fetch quite as big of a return, he’d still bring back a decent prospect or two.

Thing is, dealing away Peralta would mean dealing away a fan favorite. And moving Ray would mean shipping out one of the few vets the D-backs have at a position in which they are extremely thin. Both guys are signed beyond this year and, while they might be able to mask the loss of Peralta with other bats in the lineup long enough to stay in the race, trading Ray for anything other than starting pitching that can help right now would sure look like waving the white flag on this season.

That’s the dilemma the Diamondbacks are staring at right now. And they can’t really wait until deadline day to make their decision, so they’ll need to lean one way or the other here pretty soon. Fortunately, the next seven games are against Baltimore and Miami – two teams that are a combined 61 games below .500. So there’s one more opportunity this week. And Arizona has to take advantage.

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