The Roadtrip Preview

Things are finally as they should be in the NL West!  The Diamondbacks are in first place, and it's not a cheap first place either; every team in the West is currently over .500.  One piece of bad news is that the only NL team hotter than Arizona right now is Los Angeles, the team currently trailing them by half a game. 

Diamondbacks Record: 27-19, 1st place

Another piece of bad news lies in the upcoming schedule.  The Diamondbacks play 30 games in the next 31 days, including 17 straight beginning Friday.  The first 20 of those games come against teams that are above .500.  Right now, let's focus on the current 10-game road trip:     

The Diamondbacks play 30 games in the next 31 days, including 17 straight beginning Friday.  The first 20 of those games come against teams that are above .500.  Right now, let's focus on the current 10-game road trip:     

 

May 26-28: Cincinnati Reds (22-16) 

Probable Pitchers: 

26th: Brandon Webb (7-0 2.44) at Eric Milton (2-1 7.04)

27th: Juan Cruz (1-3 5.61) at Aaron Harang (5-3 3.82)

28th: Claudio Vargas (5-2 4.93) at Bronson Arroyo (6-2 2.29)

Since beginning the month with a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds have gone just 8-12 in their past 20 games.  They are considerably healthier than the last time they met the Diamondbacks, however, as veterans Ken Griffey Jr. and Rich Aurilia have both come off the DL since then.  The Reds now have the deepest offense in the league.

What a waste to have Webb match up against Milton!  The Diamondbacks' ace has become automatic, with the team having won each of his last eight starts.  In contrast, Eric Milton is 10-16 with a 6.53 ERA since joining the Reds.  He's "earning" $8.5 million this year, and making the Diamondbacks feel just slightly better about the $7 million that they're paying Russ Ortiz this season.

Unfortunately, the mismatch in game one creates two mismatches in the rest of the series, mismatches that favor the Reds.  Cruz's numbers don't reflect the way that he has pitched because of the 9-run first inning debacle against San Diego, but Harang and Arroyo have given Cinci a one-two punch that they haven't had since Pete Harnisch and Brett Tomko in the late 90's.  It could be difficult for Arizona to win this series.

 

May 19-21: New York Mets (28-18)

Probable Pitchers:

29th: Miguel Batista (4-2 4.60) at Orlando Hernandez (2-4 6.11)

30th: TBD at Dave Williams (2-3 7.20)

31st: Brandon Webb at Pedro Martinez (5-0 2.82)

The Mets are just 7-9 over their last 16 games, but they are still one of two NL teams with a better record than the Diamondbacks.  This is also a different team now than it has been over the past two weeks, as Dave Williams and suddenly-ex-Diamondback Orlando Hernandez replace the completely ineffective Jose Lima and Jeremy Gonzalez in the rotation. 

It's fitting that El Duque's first start as a Met should come versus his former team.  You'd expect the Diamondbacks' lefty-laden lineup to give him fits (career 1.49 WHIP vs lefties) because they can see his dynamic arm angles better than right handers. However, Shawn Green is the only player on the roster to have homered off him, and Orlando Hudson is a woeful 2-for-16 with no extra base his versus the Cuban defector.  Expect Tony Clark to be in the lineup for that game, as he can hit from the left side and holds a .313 career average against El Duque.

The Diamondbacks still haven't announced who will replace Hernandez as the new fifth starter. The leading candidates right now are Kevin Jarvis, whose career ERA is pushing six, and Russ Ortiz, whose ERA with the Diamondbacks is pushing seven.  Here's hoping that they instead turn to a Triple-A prospect, either Dustin Nippert (6-0 3.83) or Enrique Gonzalez (4-3 2.24).

The third game of this series may very well have an impact on the National League Cy Young Award race.  The Mets may have an edge because they have more team speed, and therefore should at least be able to manufacture runs against Webb.

 

June 1-4: Atlanta Braves (24-23)

Probable Pitchers: TBD

The Braves had been winners of seven out of their last eight when they went to Arizona in May, but proceeded to drop two out of three games.  This time they'll be at home, where they've won two-thirds of their games to date.

The Braves have been using a four-man rotation since young Kyle Davies strained his groin, and Todd Pratt at catcher since batting leader Brian McCann collided with Eric Byrnes on Saturday (Byrnes suffered no ill-effects from the collision, as he has extended his hitting streak to nine games and upped his average to .326).  McCann will be back, but they will need a fifth starter now that days off have become scarce.  It's unlikely that they will once again turn to rookie Travis Smith, whom Arizona roughed up en route to thirteen runs on that Saturday game.  Instead, they hope that Horatio Ramirez will be healthy and ready to roll. 

One certainty is that John Smoltz will pitch in this series.  He had been slated to miss the Diamondbacks yet again, but high pitch counts in his last two starts caused the Braves to push his next start back one day. Smoltz has a career ERA of 3.12 against Arizona in eleven games (4 starts).

  

Overall

This might just work out.  The Diamondbacks begin this long stretch of games against fierce competition, and once they become a little worn out, they'll face some easier teams.  The immediate problem is hitting away from Chase.  Diamondbacks are hitting just .250 with an aggregate .364 SLG on the road.  The other question mark is that fifth starter.  Even if the organization makes the right move and goes with a prospect, there's hardly any guarantee that he will succeed in his first few starts in the majors.

The Diamondbacks are a bipolar team right now. They're trying to balance developing a young nucleus with winning right now.  They're also playing their home games in what's all of a sudden the most extreme hitter's park in baseball, but many road games in pitcher's parks.  If all of these opposites can somehow be organized into a playoff birth for the 2006 Diamondbacks, Bob Melvin and Josh Byrnes should both receive strong consideration for Manager and Executive of the Year, respectively.   

   

Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com

          

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