ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

The 5: What to watch as D-backs enter final stretch of the regular season

Sep 18, 2020, 4:34 PM | Updated: 4:41 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks Daulton Varsho (12) celebrates his solo home run with manager Torey Lovullo (1...

Arizona Diamondbacks Daulton Varsho (12) celebrates his solo home run with manager Torey Lovullo (17) during the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Not many thought the Arizona Diamondbacks season would be capped at 60 games after the additions of Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte, yet here they are.

The team is assured a losing season in 2020, the first under manager Torey Lovullo and General Manager Mike Hazen, and enter the final nine games with only 19 wins.

Arizona isn’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, but is 6.5 games out of a playoff spot with five teams ahead of them.

Here are five things to watch as the season enters its final stretch.

The play of Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith

One benefit to a losing season is that an organization can get young players quality innings.

The team has got to see young guys like Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith and Andy Young get some valuable Major League experience during the 2020 season.

Those three are names who figure to be in the team’s future plans.

Smith was Arizona’s first-round draft pick in 2017, while Young and Varsho are ranked No. 18 and No. 3, respectively, in MLB.com’s rankings of the D-backs’ prospects.

Varsho has received the most playing time out of the three.

In 73 at-bats across 29 games, Varsho has hit .151 with three home runs and 7 RBIs.

Smith was called up from the alternate training site on Sept. 10 and has five hits in 15 at-bats with an RBI.

Young, who was acquired in the trade for Zach Greinke in 2019, played with the team earlier in the season before being sent back to the alternate training site on Aug. 17.

He hit .192 in 26 at-bats across 12 games with a one home run and four RBIs while at the Major League level.

Young, however, will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a hand injury being hit by a pitch this week.

The D-backs’ offense

One of the biggest issues for the D-backs this year was an inconsistent offense.

Arizona ranks in the bottom half of the sport in batting average (.231), runs (216) on base percentage (.304) and slugging (.374).

The team also traded away Marte, who was arguably the D-backs best hitter during his time in the desert, to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline.

The D-backs have increased their run production in the last two weeks, placing No. 9 in the league with 51 runs scored, according to Fan Graphs, but have still struggled to get hits with a batting average of .230.

The team will no doubt look for a better offensive output in the final games against Houston, Texas and Colorado, all of which rank in the lower half of the league in ERA.

How Luke Weaver and Bumgarner perform in their final starts

Along with the struggles offensively, the D-backs could point to the starting pitching staff as a reason for the disappointing result.

Arizona started the season with Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver, Zac Gallen and Merill Kelly.

Those five contributed six of the team’s 19 wins.

Bumgarner has struggled to an 8.53 ERA in his first season with the club.

He also spent time on the IL with back spasms.

Ray and Weaver each struggled to find consistency and Ray was shipped to Toronto at the trade deadline.

Weaver currently has a 6.70 ERA in ten starts, seven of which were losses.

Gallen and Kelly were bright spots for the team, but Kelly had his season ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury and Gallen has struggled for two straight starts after not giving up more than three runs in each of his first 23 starts as a big leaguer, an MLB record.

Kelly was told he should be ready for spring training next season and Gallen figures to eventually get back on track, but the team will need Bumgarner and Weaver to return to form in order to compete next season.

Weaver will pitch Saturday against Houston, while Bumgarner toes the rubber in the series finale on Sunday.

Each may also get one additional start as well before the season concludes on Sept. 27.

The performance of Taylor Clarke, Caleb Smith and Alex Young

Taylor Clarke, Alex Young and Caleb Smith have each gotten a look as a starter this season with all the moving parts in the rotation.

Those three pitchers are expected to fight for a spot in the rotation next year, along with Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener.

Clarke has pitched to a 3.99 ERA this season in 11 games, four starts, while Young started off the season well but has struggled as of late and holds a 5.44 ERA in 14 games, six starts.

Smith, who was aquired in the Marte trade, has pitched five innings, giving up three runs on four hits in his first two starts with the D-backs.

The three pitchers may find themselves in at least one more game before the conclusion of the season.

Roles in the D-backs’ bullpen

Multiple roles were opened and ready for the taking when the D-backs traded relievers Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin at the deadline.

Since the trades, three players have picked up saves for the ballclub, with Stefan Crichton leading the way with three.

Travis Bergen, who was acquired for Ray, and Kevin Ginkel each have one.

Riley Smith has been the most impressive reliever, only allowing a run in 11.1 innings, while Crichton has also done well with a 2.66 ERA across 23.2 innings.

Hector Rondon, meanwhile, has also turned his season around in the final month, pitching to a 1.80 ERA in September.

In the absence of an established closer, at least at the moment, high-leverage roles for next season appear up grabs.

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The 5: What to watch as D-backs enter final stretch of the regular season