The D'Backs Homestand Preview

Having just narrowly avoided being swept by the National League's best team, things are going to get progressively easier for the Diamondbacks. It's the Arizona Variety Show, as the next homestand features teams from three different divisions: a first place team, a third place team, and then a sixth place team.

Diamondbacks Record: 20-17, 3rd place

The Diamondbacks, despite being a third place team themselves, have quite a bit going for them right now. They had a four-game stretch earlier in the month where they only allowed three runs total. Conor Jackson's 13-game hitting streak ended on Sunday, but he and Shawn Green (1.159 May OPS) remain among baseball's hottest hitters. The defense has been superb; Counsell's error on Sunday made him the first on the team to three for the season.

Here's how the Diamondbacks match up in the games to come:

May 15-17: San Diego Padres (22-16)
Probable Pitchers:
15th: Chan Ho Park at Brandon Webb
16th: Jake Peavy at Orlando Hernandez
17th: TBD at Juan Cruz

Winners of five in a row and 14 out of their last 15 games, the Padres are not a team you want to be facing right now. Or are they? Each of the teams that the Padres have faced during these past 15 games is currently at or below .500. San Diego enters this series with the lowest batting average, slugging percentage, and fewest home runs hit in the NL. Money starter Woody Williams will be out for at least two months with a strained calf muscle, and the Padres still haven't decided who is going to start in his place on Wednesday.
Chan Ho Park may be having a good year at PetCo, but he sports a 5.25 road ERA. He may have the Diamondbacks' number as well, but at Chase Field he's 2-3 with an ominous 6.66 ERA. Park will face Brandon Webb in the opener, who was moved up in the rotation after Thursday's rainout for obvious reasons.
This means that El Duque will have gone nine days between starts. Hopefully, the extra time will help him remember how to get outs via other methods besides the strikeout. He shall face Jake Peavy, who comes off a baffling 13 strikeout two-hit performance against the Brewers. He may officially be called snake fodder, however, since he's got a 5.67 ERA against the Diamondbacks in 83.1 IP.
The Diamondbacks have stolen just 19 bases all season, but they need to come out running against the Padres. That's because Mike Piazza had a questionable arm in his prime. At this stage in his career, it's laughable. He's only thrown out four of 35 potential basestealers this year (11%). The average score of a Padres game is 4.5 to 4, and they've played in ten one-run games already, so playing for one run is a very good strategy here.

May 19-21: Atlanta Braves (17-20)
Probable Pitchers:
17th: John Thomson at Claudio Vargas
18th: Kyle Davies at Miguel Batista
19th: Tim Hudson at Brandon Webb

This will actually be the first time all year that the Diamondbacks play a team from the NL East. As usual, Atlanta is getting excellent offensive output from some unexpected sources. Red Sox Reject Edgar Renteria began the season with a 23-game hitting streak, and has still only gone hitless in one game this year. As impressive as Brian McCann looked by hitting two clutch homers against Houston in last year's NLDS, I don't believe anyone who says that they expected him to be leading the NL in batting at this time. Brian Jordan, previously presumed dead, has actually been contributing as a role player, hitting .289 with three homers in 45 at bats.
We should consider ourselves lucky to miss future Hall of Famer John Smoltz in the series, but perhaps we overlook John Thomson too quickly; he leads the team's starters with a 1.88 ERA. The best cure for Thomson is Gonzo, who is .381/.480/.619 against him in 21 career at bats.
22-year old Kyle Davies remains understandably inconsistent at this point. What's Batista's excuse? Speaking of inconsistent, Tim Hudson will start the final game of the series in a matchup of two Opening Day sinkerballers. Hudson may just want to pass the torch of Premier Sinkerballer in Baseball to Webb after the game and save on postage.

May 22-24: Pittsburgh Pirates (11-27)
Probable Pitchers:
9th: Oliver Perez at Orlando Hernandez
10th: Victor Santos at Juan Cruz
11th: Zach Duke at Claudio Vargas

Because of Thursday's rainout, the Diamondbacks look likely to face three different Pirates starters than the two they met last week. The only one worth worrying about at this point is Duke, whose ground ball tendencies should help him at Chase Field, which has easily been the most generous park in baseball for homers so far this season. However, if you take away Duke's two magnificent starts against the hapless Cub offense, he's 0-4 with a 5.91 ERA.
Of (slightly) greater concern is the Buccos' hitters. Joe Randa's injury has given playing time to former prospects Freddy Sanchez and Jose Bautista, who have combined to slug .495 so far. Manager Jim Tracy is also receiving increased pressure to bench the struggling Jeromy Burnitz, currently hitting .183. By the time the Pirates make it to the desert, either Burnitz will finally be heating up or they will have found at least a competent replacement for him. This all sort of follows the "there's nowhere to go from here but up" philosophy that generally holds true in baseball. Not even the Pirates are going to finish the season under .300. Maybe the Royals, though…

Overall

The San Diego series looms large for obvious reasons; they are leading the NL West and the hottest team in baseball along with the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though the Braves are middling right now, everyone knows that they'll be in the picture come playoff time. So the Diamondbacks will want to have a good record against them should both clubs meet in the postseason. As for the Pirates, they're the worst team in the National League right now, so it's important for the Diamondbacks to kick them while they're down.
The NL West is still anyone's race. These games in May are worth as much as games in September, and the teams that treat them as such will be the ones playing in October.
 

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