The Arizona Diamondbacks were expected to contend this season. After all, they went 85-77 last year -- which meant they would have made the playoffs under the 2020 format -- and added Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte in the offseason. Instead, they head into Thursday at 14-23 and in last place in the NL West. It's been a disaster.
There is one silver lining, though: They've got a staff ace in young Zac Gallen.
After another brilliant performance Wednesday night (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K) against the mighty Dodgers, look at Gallen's season numbers.
We can safely ignore the W-L record since he's pitching for a bad team, though it is worth noting that he hasn't taken a single loss. He's just 1-0. Right now, he's in contention for the NL Cy Young with the likes of two-time defending winner Jacob deGrom, Braves youngster Max Fried and the Cubs' assassin version of Yu Darvish.
I had a scout tell me back in the original spring training that Gallen was going to be the breakout pitcher of the year, and that is turning out to be the case. He's got consistency, stuff, a true out pitch and is improving on his one weakness.
Remarkably consistent, Gallen has allowed zero runs once, one run four times and two runs twice. He hasn't given up more than one run since Aug. 11, when he only allowed two in seven innings in Coors Field, where the Rockies average 5.7 runs per game.
The only real issue has been free passes. Gallen had a 10.8 walk percentage last season. The league average was 8.5 and you never want to see a frontline starter above the league average there. He has whittled it down to 7.7 percent this season with the league average being 9.2 percent, so he's above water. He's improving there, too. He issued five walks in four innings in his first start and only has walked 10 in the following 46 innings.
All four pitches (four-seam fastball, cutter, change and curve) in his arsenal work well together and, get this, his curveball has only yielded one hit (a single) in 29 pitches. It's also gotten 13 strikeouts. To have an out pitch like that is to see the makings of an ace. Here's a look at making a very good hitter look bad with said curve:
In all, he's holding opposing hitters to a .182/.254/.301 line. The league average slash heading into Thursday was .244/.322/.420.
"He has great delivery and repeatable pitches," said a scout. "Plus, he has a competitive edge to him."
So long as the walks stay under control, Gallen checks every box of staff ace and could be in the Cy Young conversation for years.
So far in his big league career, the 24-year-old Gallen has a 2.42 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 150 strikeouts in 130 innings across 23 big-league starts. It's not small-sample territory anymore. He's legit and is to be taken seriously as a frontline pitcher who can anchor the staff in Arizona for years. He's not eligible to hit free agency until after the 2025 season.
With how badly everything else has gone in this delightfully weird season, the Diamondbacks and their fans can latch onto Gallen's true breakout as at least one piece of good news from 2020.