After a winning (!) week of baseball against the Phillies and Cubs, the Diamondbacks continue their stay at Chase by hosting the Colorado Rockies for three games. Quite a bit has changed up in Denver since the D-Backs faced them for a weather-shortened two game series at Coors Field to open the season. After splitting that series, the Rockies proceeded to win 16 of their next 24 games, and currently sit at the top of the NL West at 17-9, 4.5 games ahead of their nearest competition and 5.5 ahead of the Diamondbacks. Their recent series saw them lose two of three at home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, so there's that.
Despite their hot start, however, there's reason to believe that it's not all sunny in Rockiesland. Well, I mean, we found that out last time, but I was speaking in a more metaphorical sense. Thus far, Colorado is outperforming their Pythagorean Win/Loss record by two games, giving them a "true" record of only 15-11, only 2.5 games better than the D-Backs "true" record of 13-14, so there's at least the possibility of some regression to the mean. Plus, there are the continued struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez to consider. The second runner-up for the NL Cy Young last season has scuffled, putting up an ERA of 7.20 in his first 4 starts, and Rockies fans are getting concerned. So while I'm not saying the Rockies aren't a good team, I certainly wouldn't mind if the pulled a "2008 Arizona Diamondbacks" for rest of the season, and I'm sure the rest of the NL West wouldn't either.
Arizona (12-15) Colorado (17-9) Edge
I should probably mention that these stats don't quite do the Rockies justice. since wRC+ is park-adjusted but FIP isn't. Thus, their pitching numbers are infested with a case of Coors Field, while their wRC+ is scaled down. For what it's worth, their team OPS is similar to the Diamondbacks (.709 compared to .747 for the D-Backs), and they've only scored eight runs fewer than the boys from AZ. The pitching is middle-of-the-road by most unadjusted metrics (15th out of 30 teams in FIP), which is to say it's significantly better than the D-Backs'. Of course, once you take away Coors Field and it's crazy HR%, the Rockies pitching staff looks a whole lot more frightening (5th in xFIP). And the fact that they're doing it all with Jimenez struggling says a lot about the depth of the pitching staff and the strength of the bullpen, which has a 3.19 FIP.
Since the opening series, the Rockies have optioned 3B Ian Stewart (OPS: .220) to AAA and replaced him with Jose Lopez (OPS: 414), who had played mostly second base up until this point. I'm sure Rockies fans are overjoyed that they finally have a third baseman worth celebrating. Sarcasm aside, I expect that Rockies fans are overjoyed at how Jonathan Herrera has played at 2B in place of Lopez. He has an OPS+ of 117 so far, despite putting up a line of .277/.353/.346 in 960 plate appearances in AAA. Since I'm not a Rockies fan, I'm hoping that the Colorado Springs version of Herrera makes the trip to Chase, rather than the 2011 Denver version. Todd Helton's career is sort of like the final scene of a Michael Bay film: every time you think it's over, he launches a few more bombs. He's second on the team in SLG% at .507, and has done a wonderful job of silencing his critics. Which I guess includes me, since I said he "his best days are clearly behind him." Sorry Todd.
Carlos Gonzalez, who was a star last year, has struggled mightily this season, with a slash line of .232/.286/.316 so far in 2011. The Diamondbacks caught a lot of flack for letting Gonzalez go after he burst onto the scene last year, and a down year would go a long way toward helping D-Back fans get over the loss. After all, the final step toward recovery from grief isn't "acceptance," it's "watching the player you're grieving over suck for his new team," as anyone who remembers the Carlos Quentin trade can attest. Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta are both off to hot starts (OPS+ of 121 and 110, respectively), but the star of the Rockies hitting parade is Troy Tulowitzki. Everyone knows that he's one of the best shortstops in the game, but even that really doesn't do him justice anymore. From 2009 through 2011, he ranks sixth in all of baseball in (Fangraphs) WAR. He's officially one of the great players in Major League Baseball. And you don't know how hard that is for me to admit, since even to this day I hear that awful ::clap clap clapclapclap clapclapclapclap:: "TU-LO!!!" thing that they did during the 2007 NLCS echoing in my head late at night when I'm trying to sleep. God, I hated that series.
Tuesday: Jorge De La Rosa (4-0, 2.61) vs. Joe Saunders (0-3, 5.93)
Insightful Commentary: Well, this looks promising, doesn't it? De La Rosa has had a strong start to the season, and it is reflected by his FIP (2.59). Obviously, his BABIP won't stay at .224 all season, and his HR/FB wouldn't stay at 3.1 anywhere, but it especially won't in Coors Field. However, his K's are steady and his walks are down, so he has a shot at a really strong season even after he regresses. Since I'm tired of complaining about Joe Saunders, who seems like a good, classy guy, here's something positive about his 2011 season: his K's are higher than they've been at any point since 2006. And there's your Happy Joe Saunders Fact of the
Insightful Commentary: I'm not a big believer in "pitching to the score," but I do tend to discount games pitched by starters who are given a huge cushion after the first inning, as happened to Enright the last time out. The other team stops trying as hard to put on good at-bats, while the pitcher knows he can sacrifice a run here or there. Thus, I wouldn't read too much into his 6.2 inning, 2 run start last time out against the Cubs, and I'd like to see him do something similar this time out. You hear me, Barry? Do it again. I mentioned last time that Chacin could be dangerous if he keeps his walk rate under control, and so far this season he has done just that, lowering his BB/9 from 4 to 2.38. Uh oh.
Insightful Commentary: As it stands now, Galarraga is allowing a HR on more than one in every four fly balls he gives up. Since he's a fly-ball pitcher, this strikes me as a bit of a problem. Obviously, his HR/FB rate isn't going to stay at 27.5% all season, but it's still rather worrisome, given that his BABIP is only .213, which also isn't going to stay that way all season. Jason Hammel has made a nice career out of underperforming his FIP, causing teams to keep taking chances on him even though his career ERA is nearly 5. But currently the statistical shoe is on the other foot, as his ERA on the season is over a run higher than his FIP (4.48). However, this is more due to bad luck than good, since his xFIP is right where it has been since he joined the Rockies.
Prediction Time: The Rockies appear to be the better team again, and the Diamondbacks are sending out the "yuck" part of their pitching staff to face some very good arms for the Rockies. I'll say we steal a game, but lose the series two games to one.
As always, GO D-BACKS!