Ain’t No Fang D-backs roundtable: Bumgarner, the bullpen and more
As we near the start of an Arizona Diamondbacks season unlike any that we have ever experienced, the hosts from the Ain’t No Fang podcast – Cody “Bear” Fincher, Derek Montilla and Steve Zinsmeister – discuss some predictions and what they think we may see from this team in 2020.
Q: What minor league player do you think will make the most out of an opportunity this season?
STEVE: The D-backs brought back most of last year’s team, and managed to add a handful of significant players. That doesn’t leave a ton of opportunities for rookies to make a big impact. However, Ildemaro Vargas has already made the most of summer camp, showing power at the plate that we’ve never seen from him before. He seems to be the natural backup at most infield positions, giving him plenty of opportunities to shine when guys take days off. Kevin Cron probably has the higher upside, but that will most likely come in the form of DH at bats. I’ll say Vargas takes advantage of his opportunity.
BEAR: I’m excited to see what a guy like Kevin Cron will do this year. Now that the designated hitter will be featured in the National League, Cron will be in line for plenty of at-bats. Last year in AAA Reno, Cron showed tremendous power. He hit .331 with 38 home runs and 105 RBIs in 82 games. If he gets consistent at bats at DH and first base, I think Cron will get a chance to show off.
DEREK: I think there will be opportunities for minor league players unlike we’ve ever seen before with the looming cloud of COVID-19 hanging over this season, so it’s all about grabbing the brass ring when that opportunity arises. Catcher Daulton Varsho has been a top prospect in Arizona’s system for a few seasons but may get the opportunity to see big league time with only three other catchers on the 60-man roster. Last season for Double-A Jackson, Varsho had a .301 batting average with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs and could be the offensive threat at catcher the D-backs have been looking for.
Q: What do you expect to see out of Madison Bumgarner? Is he still the staff ace?
STEVE: I want to pump the brakes on Bumgarner a little. He is NOT replacing Zack Greinke as the staff ace. He may be a grizzled veteran with a great track record, but last year was arguably his worst statistical season (still pretty solid). He hasn’t been an All-Star since 2016. But he’s still the guy I want on the mound for big games. His WHIP last season was still on par with his career average (1.127 in 2019). Dude is a workhorse. And he knows a thing or two about horses.
BEAR: I expect to see the same Madison Bumgarner, in terms of attitude, that we saw all those years in San Francisco. The one thing I’ll be interested to see is how he pitches at Chase Field. In 19 starts at Chase Field in his career, Bumgarner has a 3.13 ERA, but he struggled pitching in Arizona last season. In two starts at Chase Field, he had a 5.84 ERA in just 12.1 innings pitched. While we might not see the same MadBum, in terms of statistics, that we’ve seen in the past, I expect we will still see the same attitude and a guy you can count on to take the ball every fifth day.
DEREK: I expect to see Mason Saunders galloping in from right field on his trusty steed on Opening Day, sun glistening off his tanned skin and leather duster as his steely eyes squint deftly at the stands. I expect him to dismount gracefully and spectacularly from his horse, with his duster waving in the wind as he lands like it’s Superman’s cape. I imagine the second base umpire will be none too happy about a horse being in the infield, but Saunders will probably defuse the situation by removing the toothpick from his mouth and telling the umpire that the mare is with him. He will become the staff ace of our hearts. That’s what I expect to see out of Mason Saunders.
Oh, Bumgarner? I expect to see Madison Bumgarner go 6-4 with an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.80, but I anticipate Robbie Ray will emerge as the staff ace in a contract year. I also do expect to see everyone on the starting rotation wearing dusters before this thing is over.
Q: Does Archie Bradley remain the closer all season?
STEVE: Archie’s longevity at closer this year could be helped by the fact that it’s a shortened season. There were a few instances in recent years where Archie struggled mightily to regain control. If that happens early in the season, it’ll be interesting to see how quick manager Torey Lovullo’s hook is. I’ll still say Archie manages to hold the role all year. It’s only a two-month season.
BEAR: I sure hope so. If Bradley remains the closer all season, it will mean that he has a near perfect year. This season is going to be so different, especially with how Lovullo will have to make decisions. If Bradley struggles out of the gate, I don’t think Lovullo will stick with him as long as he would if this was a normal 162-game season. Bradley was the unofficial closer down the stretch last season and he performed well. Hopefully he runs with the chance now that Lovullo has finally named him the closer. But, with the 60-game sprint that this season will be, it’ll be difficult for Bradley, or any player, to get through a rough patch while keeping their roles.
DEREK: While I still feel like Yoan Lopez is the closer of the future for this or another organization, I think that Bradley wants it more than anyone else and will retain the position for the season. He has the intensity, attitude, and the energy to be perfect for the role. However, it still comes down to control and attacking the strike zone to find success. Last season, Bradley had a career-high in strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio of 10.93, but he also had issues with walks and his fastball effectiveness which led to an opposing batting average of .243 for 2019, his highest since moving to the bullpen. So far during summer camp, we have seen changes to the vertical release point of his pitches and much better command with his fastball when attacking the strike zone, so hopefully we will see a rejuvenated “Crash Landing” charging out of the pen to close games.
What is this team’s biggest weakness, especially considering the potential roster impact of COVID-19?
STEVE: The D-backs have tons of depth, but they don’t have a bunch of top-notch pitchers — starters or relievers. They may get through the season just fine, but do they have three starters capable of getting through the Dodgers’ top guys? No, they don’t. The bullpen feels the same to me. They have several solid veteran relievers, but no one who dominates and can carry a bullpen in a potential postseason. If this team is going to pitch well, I think it will have to be as a unit. No one is going to carry them on their own.
BEAR: For me, the depth they have with their position players is decent, but not great. They have guys that could step in if there is an injury or a positive COVID-19 test, but not to the caliber that the Dodgers have, for example. The D-backs will really have to rely on guys like Josh Rojas, Kevin Cron, and Idemaro Vargas if something happens to one of their regulars.
DEREK: The position with a lack of depth for this team seems to be the outfield. The D-backs have versatile players such as Josh Rojas and Tim Locastro who are capable of playing in the absence of a starter, but once that starts happening the team will be left at limited options for late game situations and substitutions. There also seems to be a lack of experienced options for outfielders in their 60-man pool outside of Jon Jay, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the organization make a move to acquire another seasoned outfielder if they have success early on.
Q: What are your predictions for the D-backs’ record in this 60-game season? Do they make the playoffs?
STEVE: I have no clue what this team’s record will be this season. The D-backs were 30-30 in the first 60 games of 2019, but they were also 34-26 in the final 60 games. Neither of those two facts affects this season at all, but it goes to show how important each game is. I’ll split the difference and guess the D-backs win 32 games. That’s what this is — a guess.
As for the playoffs, that’s not any easier to predict. There are four teams in the NL Central who could feasibly be better than the D-backs. Plus, they have four more in the East and one more in their own division. This is going to be a mad dash for the playoffs. I’ll say the odds are against them making the playoffs. I’d like to be wrong about this prediction.
BEAR: First of all, I don’t see the D-backs winning the NL West. The Dodgers are just too good of a team and I don’t see L.A. struggling to win this division with all the talent they have. If the D-backs have any shot of making the playoffs, it will be as a Wild Card team. I think the D-backs will take one of the two Wild Card spots with a record of 34-26. The Diamondbacks have a well-balanced team and if everyone stays healthy, I think they have a chance to make some noise in the National League.
DEREK: I know the popular answer here is to say that they will come in second to the Dodgers in the NL West and most likely miss out on the Wild Card as well, but I’m not going to do that. The D-backs have been a team that has started hot the last few years but didn’t have enough in the tank to sustain a 162-game season and a run in the playoffs due to lack of depth. In this wacky 60-game season with so many unknown variables, I think the conditions are right for this team led by MVP Ketel Marte and Madison Bumgarner to take people by surprise. My bold prediction? The D-backs go 38-22 and win the NL West.