Instead of a three- or four-game set to start the week, we get a pair of two-game ones, starting in Los Angeles today, before moving down the coast to San Diego on Wednesday and Thursday. Given the ephemeral nature of these series, I'm not going to bother writing separate previews; instead, I'll combine them in one
Los Angeles. The Dodgers have proved untouchable at Chavez Ravine, winning all ten games there by a combined margin of 68-26. But that conceals a major issue with their pitching staff, whose April ERA was 4.30, compared to 3.68 last season. Hiroki Kuroda is on the DL, with no return in sight, Clayton Kershaw (ERA 5.46) has not lived up to expectations and James McDonald has been so bad, he's been dropped entirely. Jeff Weaver - a man whose last major-league start was in 2007 - is taking his spot, and we'll see him this series. Weaver (career ERA+ 93) and Eric Stults (89) are exactly the kind of pitchers on whom we should feast; however, as documented in our April review, that hasn't been the case.
The LA rotation has been getting 5.47 IP/start [they needed to add an extra man to the bullpen before the Padres series] and only seeing quality starts in 42% of games, both below the NL average, but they still have a 10-5 record. It has, of course, been the offense who have been driving the team, hitting 55 points better than Arizona, with an overall .284/.375/.428 line for a .803 OPS and a 109 OPS+, second-best in the league behind the Cardinals. Weak spots are few, Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal are off to slow starts, but you'd be an idiot to think Martin will have an OPS below .600 at season end. The dreadlocked elephant in the room is the Mannysaurus: .349/.495/.614. That's a higher OBP than last season in LA - y'know, those numbers we said he could never repeat?
That'll be why the Dodgers have been averaging almost seven runs per game at home, juggernauting their way to tie the best winning streak at home to open a season, in modern NL history. But it's got to end sometime, and facing a pair of weak starters gives Arizona as good a chance as anyone. Taking both contests would keep us within five games of the Dodgers, which is where I want us to be when we get Webb back. However, if - God forbid - we end up losing both, we'll be 8.5 back and even the return of Brandon may be too late to salvage anything.
San Diego. It appears normal order is being restored down the coast, with the Padres' hot start completely evaporating - at time of writing they've lost eleven of their last thirteen, and are three games below .500. Looks like pre-season projections of 100 losses might not be far off, though at least Dex et al were wise enough not to start trumpeting how they were "greatly under-rated" after four games. One does have to feel (somewhat) for Jake Peavy and Chris Young, since what ailed Dan Haren early on has clearly infected the Padres. In the past two games, that pair have combined to throw 15 innings, allow eight hits and one run, but have got two no-decisions and the team has lost both times... And, hey: guess who we face on Wednesday and Thursday?
Adrian Gonzalez continues to be a beast, his nine homers tied with Pujols for the NL lead. But over the past two weeks, he is the only full-time Padre with an OPS about .700 [though former D-back Scott Hairston is continuing to make us regret that trade], and David Eckstein is their sole other starter with a season ERA+ above 100 - and only just, at 101. At the other end, Brian Giles' .449 OPS is ranked 306th among the 308 major-leaguers with 35+ PAs this year. That's over one hundred points below the worst Arizona qualifier [Conor Jackson is 279th, at .550], and a typical Padres line-up will have three players batting .240 or better. If that sounds familiar, it's because so does a typical D-backs one. For us, it'd be Lopez, Reynolds and Upton; in San Diego, it's Gonzalez, Eckstein and Chase Headley. Don't expect many runs this series.
It may help the Padres to return to Petco, as the recent bad streak largely took place away from home; they are 6-4 in San Diego this season, compared to 5-10 on the road. However, the Pirates poured on 21 runs over three games in the last set at Petco, so if they can score, there's no reason the Diamondbacks should not be able to. Both Young and Peavy have had trouble staying consistent: one game, they'll be totally dominant, but the next, they'll be gone in the fourth inning. Which one shows up on the day will go a long way to determining our victory chances.