Diamondbacks Record: 14-13, 2nd place
The Diamondbacks last 15 games came against NL West rivals,
and the Snakes managed nine wins over that span. This is exactly what the team
needed. They are now just one game behind the division-leading Rockies in the
topsy-turvy NL West.
But the real challenge begins as the Diamondbacks begin an
eleven game stretch in which they face the NL Central, baseball’s toughest
division so far. No fewer than five of the Central’s six teams have a record
that would be good enough for first place in the NL West. So the question we
will have answered in the next two weeks goes like this: The D’backs have beaten
the West, but can they beat the best?
May 3-4: vs. Chicago Cubs (14-11)
3rd: Greg Maddux at Miguel Batista
4th: Rich Hill at Juan Cruz
It might be easy to overlook a Cubs team that doesn’t
feature Derrek Lee, the NL’s best hitter last year. What can Aramis Ramirez and
his 10 RBIs do to hurt us? It might be easy to look at Greg Maddux’s 1-8 career
record (4.97 ERA) against Arizona and not fret. Why get all into a tizzy about
Rich Hill, a rookie who walked 17 batters in 23.2 IP last year?
The thing to remember is that the Cubs still have a better
record than anybody in the NL West. Even though they won’t score a ton of runs,
they are able to score runs consistently thanks to their newfound ability to
manufacture runs similarly to how their South Side counterparts did last year en
route to a World Series championship. Juan Pierre’s .276 OBP may not look like
much, but when you factor in all of the times he has reached due to errors by
infielders hurrying to throw him out, he’s reached base 32.4% of the time and
scored 18 runs. Craig Counsell has scored 17 despite a .381 OBP.
All four pitchers in this series are products of the Cubs
organization. Despite Maddux’s troubles with the Diamondbacks, it’s impossible
to overlook the likelihood that he’s this year’s Roger Clemens. Batista has
allowed 39 hits in just 27 innings, but has always been a streaky pitcher and
might turn things around. Hill may have struggled in his brief callup last
year, but has struck out 514 batters in 370.1 minor league innings. Juan Cruz
has had his struggles in the bullpen, yet boasts a career 3.93 ERA as a
starter. Expect a low-scoring series.
May 5-7: vs. Cincinnati Reds (19-8)
5th: Elizardo Ramirez at Brandon Webb
6th: Bronson Arroyo at Orlando Hernandez
7th: Dave Williams at Claudio Vargas
The Reds have the best record in the majors. Everybody who
predicted that raise your hand. I thought so. The Reds have also scored the
most runs in the National League. That’s not too surprising, since they did so
last year as well. The shock is that Cinci’s starting pitching has been
competent. We’ve always said that decent pitching is all that the Reds would
need to compete, and they’re proving our theories to have been understated.
The Reds are actually in a similar position to Arizona in
that each of them has an overpaid starter on the DL that probably serves the
team best in that role. The difference being that the Diamondbacks had demoted
Russ Ortiz to the bullpen before he got injured, whereas the Reds seem inclined
to stick with Milton until the bitter end. So when Milton gets off the DL, we
can expect the Reds to falter a bit.
But the Diamondbacks must face
Milton’s replacement, to open the series. He’ll draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez not so much because of his stuff as because he needs to fill his
pockets with rocks to get listed at 180 pounds. He’s had two solid starts so
far, but may need to be better than that to beat Brandon Webb, whose groundball
tendencies could negate the Reds’ home run power. Bronson Arroyo has been
terrific (5-0 2.06) while Dave Williams has been atrocious (1-2 7.61), so the
expectation is that those two games will be split. It’s encouraging to see the
Diamondbacks matching up so well with the hottest team in baseball.
May 9-11: at Pittsburgh Pirates (8-20)
9th: Miguel Batista at Ian Snell
10th: Juan Cruz at Paul Maholm
11th: Brandon Webb at Oliver Perez
As good as the Reds have been thus far, the Pirates have
been terrible. For that, you can blame their leadoff men hitting under .200 a
little bit, and their inconsistent starting pitching a lot. Ian Snell had
allowed 16 earned runs in his first 15 innings before surrendering just two in
his past 13. Paul Maholm boasts a 3.86 ERA at home, but admits a 10.00 road
ERA. Oliver Perez looked dominant on Opening Day, striking out nine and
allowing three hits in 5.1 IP. But in five starts since then, he’s pitched 23.1
innings, allowing 36 hits and seven homers en route to an 8.87 ERA, and striking
out four fewer batters than he has walked.
One important thing to note about the Buccos is that Maholm
isn’t the only one performing better at home. They have a respectable .764 home
OPS but a pathetic .659 road OPS, a big reason why they have gone 6-7 at PNC but
2-13 on the road. But the Diamondbacks do get to face the Pirates at Chase
later this month, and they should feel fortunate to play the Pirates solely in
May. Their inconsistent rotation, which contains only one pitcher older than
24, might have things figured out by August.
May 12-14: at St. Louis Cardinals (17-10)
Probable Pitchers: TBD
Not much new here. The Cardinals may not have the best
record in the NL, but they are still the team to beat. The one concern for them
right now is health. Albert Pujols, whom you may have heard of, has had a very
sore back since sliding into first base on April 23rd. His
production hasn’t tailed off any, and he’s played through worse injuries before,
but it’s something that bears watching. On the other hand, Jim Edmonds has
missed five starts this year with a sore shoulder. It has been affecting his
performance; he’s hitting just .200 on the year.
As far as pitching goes, yeah, you hope to avoid Carpenter,
but there’s also no real weak link in the rotation to shoot for. For the
record, it looks as though the Diamondbacks will see Carpenter in this series,
and any pitching injuries to the rotation likely won’t hurt them. Rookie phenom
Adam Wainwright, who was a starter throughout his minor league career, currently
boasts a 0.77 ERA out of the pen, and would make a spot start if any of the
Redbird regulars falter.
The Diamondbacks are riding high right now. They are
currently 12-9 in their division. Orlando Hudson is the only regular not
hitting as well as he ought to be. Despite some poor results lately from
Orlando Hernandez, he is third in the NL in strikeouts. Brandon Webb has
developed into an ace as hoped, and Juan Cruz looks to be a vast improvement
over Russ Ortiz in the rotation.
While this may look like a daunting stretch of games, the
Cubs and the Reds are probably playing over their heads right now. The Pirates
aren’t pushovers at home, but at least the Diamondbacks won’t be seeing Zach
Duke there. The Cardinals are just plain trouble. The D’backs went 2-5 against
a very similar Cardinals team last year. But every other team in the West is
going to have to face them as well, and I think that by the end of this stretch
we’ll still see Arizona right in the thick of the NL West race.
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