Series Preview #32: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

Rivalry!

So, the Diamondbacks are in the middle of their fifteenth season in the NL West, and they have yet to form a true, lasting rivalry with any of the teams. "Wait," you say, "What about the Giants and Dodgers? I can't stand those rapscallions!" Unfortunately, as much as we all hate the Giants and Dodgers, they're too wrapped up in each other to even notice we exist. God, it's like high school all over again. And I guess we could hate the Padres, but that feels like it would require wasting far more energy on the Padres than I'm entirely comfortable with. So it's been a struggle.

The Rockies, though, now there's a team that I could get behind being rivals with. They're both recent expansion teams, they're from similar markets, and they share a home ballpark during Spring Training. Also, bear in mind that these are the only two teams from the Mountain Time Zone, so the rivalry holds sway over an entire swath of land. I like to imagine towns like Roswell, New Mexico and Billings, Montana being fiercely divided and getting in fistfights over the results of D-Back/Rockie games.

But so far, it just hasn't materialized. The rivalry sure looked promising after the 2007 NLCS, when tensions rose and both teams had promising cores of young players. Surely, there would be more thrilling Conor Jackson/Franklin Morales playoff matchups to come, right?

But it was not meant to be. In 2008, the Diamondbacks "contended" while the Rockies took a step back, finishing 74-88. In 2009 and 2010, the Diamondbacks returned the favor, finishing last while the Rockies threatened the division leaders, making the playoffs in 2009. In 2011, the Diamondbacks surprised everyone by hurtling into contention. But again, the potential for a rivalry fell flat as the Rockies went 56-81 after April, and now find themselves hopelessly out of contention in 2012.

Thus far, the Rockies and Diamondbacks have emulated the behavior of those frontiersmen who settled the cities in which they play today, rugged individuals content to leave each other to their own devices on the vast frontier. But baseball in both cities would benefit greatly from a true rivalry between the two. Come on, Rockies: ball's in your court on this one.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(47-48)
Colorado
(36-58)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 98 98
Tied
Pitching (FIP-):
94 107
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
15.1 -31.8
Arizona

The Rockies aren't 36-58 because of their offense, which, as you can see, has been more or less equivalent to the Diamondbacks' this year. And before you make a snarky joke about the Diamondbacks' offense, know that that wRC+ is tied for fourth in the National League. And the bullpen has been pretty good as well, with an FIP- of 90. If their starting pitching was even average, they'd probably within striking distance in the NL West right now.

Their starting pitching has not been average. 11 pitchers have started a game for the 2012 Colorado Rockies, and of those 11 pitchers, only Drew Pomeranz has an ERA below 5. His is 4.98. Woo? This isn't even building to a Coors Field joke where I reveal that Jeremy Guthrie actually has a park-adjusted ERA of 110 or something. They'd be less bad if they played their home games in Dodger Stadium, to be sure, but they still wouldn't be good. Their team ERA from their starting pitchers is 6.25, which is almost impossible to comprehend at this point in the season. I mean, imagine Armando Galarraga made every start for the 2011 Diamondbacks. This is more than a third of a run worse than that.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Stephen Drew, SS
2. Gerardo Parra, CF
3. Aaron Hill, 2B
4. Jason Kubel, LF
5. Justin Upton, RF
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
8. Ryan Wheeler, 3B

Colorado Rockies

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Tyler Colvin, RF
6. Jordan Pacheco, 3B
7. Wilin Rosario, C
8. Josh Rutledge, SS

  • Dexter Fowler's career Slugging Percentage is .431, which makes it a bit awkward that he's currently slugging .526. Before this year, he seemed predestined to be an annoying fast singles hitter with enough plate discipline to hit at the top of the order. Now, he's probably the second-best hitter on the team. His HR/FB probably won't remain 18.7% going forward, since that puts him in the same company as Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, but the fact that he's even in that realm to begin with makes this one of the Coors-Fieldiest stat lines of all time.
  • Part of me feels like I should stop pining for Carlos Gonzalez now. I mean, the Diamondbacks already have four outfielders who should be starting, so the logical thing to do would be to move on from the trade and say all's well that ends well. Not a chance. He's hitting .331/.391/.541, which is what Jason Kubel would be hitting if he added about 25 points of Batting Average. I want him to come back, and I will continue leaving him drunken voice mails until he does.
  • (AZ Snakepit does not condone the harassment or stalking of any Colorado Rockies players other than Ryan Spilborghs)
  • If you haven't been paying close attention to the Rockies (and why would you have been), you probably don't know a ton about Wilin Rosario. Which is a shame, because he's having a nice rookie year, slugging .532 from the catcher's spot. His OBP is .290, which is concerning, but he's a 23-year-old catcher with power, and those don't grow on trees.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Ian Kennedy (7-8, 4.33) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (0-0, N/A)

Insightful Commentary: Kennedy looked to be heading for another disappointing start against the Reds until he wasn't. His first batter faced hit a double to the wall, even the outs were hard hit and he didn't seem to have great location. But either he pulled things together around the fourth inning, or the Reds just got frustrated, because he ended up going eight innings and allowing only one run, for his best start (by results at least) of the season. He's shown signs of returning to last year's form before, but let's hope this is finally a genuine step in that direction.

Jonathan Sanchez makes his triumphant return to the NL West on Monday, after being traded straight up for Jeremy Guthrie in one of the more depressing player swaps in recent memory (combined ERA of the players involved: 14.11). And just from looking at his numbers, Sanchez looks pretty broken. He's always been wild, but it's difficult to succeed when you walk 44 batters in 53.1 innings. Making matters worse, his K-rate has plummeted and, as though in preparation for Denver, his HR/9 has skyrocketed. He's a far cry from the guy who throw that one no-hitter that Giant fans love reminding everyone about.

Tuesday: Joe Saunders (4-6, 3.58) vs. TBA

Insightful Commentary: So, remember how I mentioned that Drew Pomeranz is the only Rockies starter with an ERA under 5. Well, we won't even have a chance to marvel at his semi-competence, since he's out with a hand injury. The team hasn't announced a starter yet, but keep in mind that it will be someone who wasn't good enough to break into the Rockies' abysmal rotation in the first place.

I was at work during Saunders' last start, so my viewing was limited to Gameday (I am a terrible intern). But from there, Saunders looked as good as I've ever seen him. He mixed pitches, kept balls right on the corners of the strike zone, and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Then, I went out to lunch and things happened, and Saunders was left with a garden-variety Quality Start. But for those first few innings, Saunders looked like the best imaginable version of Joe Saunders, which was fun to see even for a moment.

Wednesday: Trevor Cahill (8-8, 3.77) vs. Jeff Francis (2-2, 5.24)

Insightful Commentary: Who was the best hitter Cahill faced against the Astros? Altuve sat for that game, so...J.D Martinez? Maybe Chris Johnson? A lineup led by those two hitters, both of whom I had to look up because I had literally forgotten about them already, knocked Cahill out of the game after 5.1 innings. He gave up two more runs in the first inning, and couldn't get out of the sixth. It was the quintessential Bad Cahill start, and it came against one of the worst lineups I've ever seen. I know I'm so late to this party that 'Skins is about to show up, but I'm finally starting to get worried about Cahill.

Jeff Francis has apparently thrown 475.2 innings since 2007, most of them for a division rival. I remember none of those innings. In my mind, he's been in carbon freeze ever since inexplicably leading the Rockies to the World Series at the Diamondbacks' expense with the most irritating barely-90 MPH fastball I can recall. He's still pretty much the same guy, even if age and injuries have robbed him of effectiveness.

Final Verdict: So you know how we wished the Astros series would never end? Well, the pitching they'll see in this matchup is arguably worse than what the team feasted on in their last three games. The Rockies offense is better than the personnel makes it look, and could cause problems for our inconsistent starters, but the Diamondbacks have no excuse not to continue their hot hitting during this series. Diamondbacks two games to one.

As ever, head over to our friends of the show at Purple Row for your Rockies needs.

(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)

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