Series Preview #42: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Cincinnati Reds

The Diamondbacks take a moment of silence for their dearly departed playoff hopes.

Obituaries:

2012 Arizona Diamondbacks' Season, The

The 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks' Season, aged five months, passed away Sunday at its home in downtown Phoenix. Three months prior, Kevin Towers and Ken Kendrick, its primary caregivers, rushed their season to the hospital and placed it on life support after it suffered severe trauma at the hands of the Dodgers and Giants.

While the Season outlived the expectations of most of the surgeons on hand expected, thanks in part to a decision by the Diamondbacks not to cut life support at the trade deadline, it ultimately succumbed to injuries sustained earlier in the season. Though the specifics remain a mystery, the cause of death has been linked to Chronic Inconsistency, Severe Clutch Deficiency, and a lethal overdose of San Diego Padres. Rumors that Kendrick poisoned the team for insubordination remain unfounded.

The 2012 Season is survived by the 2013 Season, which shall inherit from their predecessors: one of the best young first basemen in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, one of the most promising rotations in baseball, and plenty of room for regression.

A public memorial service will be held from Monday, August 27th, until October 3rd.

Too much? Frankly, the Diamondbacks probably weren't going to make the playoffs even before the Padres series. They were 5.5 games back in their division before the first game even started, and they had to pass two teams, one of which just replaced James Loney with one of the best first baseman in baseball. It was always going to be a longshot.

But a sweep by the Padres at home feels like the end of the line. ESPN just informed the nation that no team has ever made the playoffs after losing six games in a row at home to the 2012 San Diego Padres. It's true, look it up. Coolstandings.com has the team's playoff odds at 7%. Baseball-Prospectus had them at 2.7%, and that was before they lost on Sunday. And the team is currently (stop me if you've heard this before) back at .500. There is technically still a chance, but there's nothing in this team's track record to suggest that they plan to seize it.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(64-64)
Cincinnati
(77-52)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 94 98
Cincinnati
Pitching (FIP-):
94 94
Even
Fielding (UZR):
12.9 0.2
Arizona

"What the Stats Say" is that the Reds are pretty good. But honestly, you probably could have figured that out even without looking past their record. They're a game back of the Nationals for the best record in baseball right now, and barring some weirdness from the Cardinals or Pirates, look poised to lock up their second NL Central title in three years. That composite FIP- is a tad misleading, since their pitching essentially breaks down into a solid, but not exceptional rotation, and a super-duper-definitely-exceptional bullpen. You know Aroldis Chapman, but the Reds also have six other bullpen members with ERAs at or below 3.5.

The offensive sabermetric numbers look less flashy, since offense in general is down this year and park-adjusted stats take some of the shine off of Cincy's power numbers, but only St. Louis and Milwaukee have better wRC+ scores in the National League this year. And there's still something impressive about leading your league in home runs, even if it happens at Great American Ballpark.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Chris Young, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Jason Kubel, LF
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
5. Justin Upton, RF
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Chris Johnson, 3B
8. Jake Elmore, SS

Cincinnati Reds

1. Zack Cozart, SS
2. Drew Stubbs, CF
3. Brandon Phillips, 2B
4. Ryan Ludwick, LF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Scott Rolen, 3B
7. Todd Frazier, 1B
8. Ryan Hanigan, C

So, It's late, and tomorrow's my first day of classes, which means y'all get bullet points. And you'll like it, too, or next time I'll switch to those obnoxious diamonds that pretentious people use on their resumes.

  • There are ten players on the Reds with more than 200 Plate Appearances this year. Among those players, Cozart and Stubbs are tied for the lowest OBP on the team. So where in the lineup do they hit? In the two positions where OBP is traditionally the most important. Dusty Baker is probably a great person, and he's had enough success as a manager to suggest that he deals with intangibles very well. Which is important, because he clearly doesn't have a good grasp on actual tangibles.
  • The Reds have won 27 of 40 games since Joey Votto left with an injury, and one of the major reasons for this success without Votto is the emergence of rookie 1B Todd Frazier. He probably doesn't have enough appearances to beat out Miley in the Rookie of the Year voting, but if Miley does lose to someone, I'd rather it be Frazier than Bryce Harper.
  • Since 2005, Ryan Ludwick has an OPS of 117. If I had to guess, I would assume that the disparity between how good people generally think Ryan Ludwick is and how good he actually is is among the highest in Major League Baseball.
  • Since coming to the Reds in 2006, Brandon Phillips has always been just a few walks away from being a superstar. But frankly, it's difficult to be a superstar when you get on base at about the same rate as Willie Bloomquist. It might not be a bad idea for someone to get in his ear about this, to see if it's the sort of thing that could be corrected. I suspect Dusty Baker is not that person.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Tyler Skaggs (1-0, 2.70) vs. Bronson Arroyo (10-7, 3.87)

Insightful Commentary: Everyone watches baseball games for different reasons, of course, but in general, one of the shifts that occurs while watching a team that isn't going to make the playoff is the increased interest in individual players over team results. And from that perspective, Tyler Skaggs just became the most interesting player on the team, for my money. He wasn't flawless on Wednesday, but he was impressive in a way that extended beyond results. He looked composed in a way that Bauer never did. And until we get more data, I'm going to stick with that gut reaction over his less than impressive K:BB rate.

3.84, 3.88, 5.07, 3.87. Those are Bronson Arroyo's ERAs over the last four years, and one of them is very clearly not like the others. The really weird part is that most of his rates haven't really changed, nor has his BABIP or his LOB%, which typically suggest that a pitcher is getting lucky or unlucky. No, the only thing that changed in 2011 was his home run rate, which went from "on the high side of average" to "holy shit is Yusmeiro Petit pitching what is happening" in 2011. The moral of the story, as ever, is "don't pitch like Yusmeiro Petit."

Tuesday: Wade Miley (14-8, 2.80) vs. Johnny Cueto (16-6, 2.47)

Insightful Commentary: Before this season, who was thinking about Wade Miley as anything other than a stopgap in the rotation until Bauer and Skaggs were ready? I certainly wasn't. He pitched 40 innings last year, produced an FIP of 5.08, and somehow looked even shakier than that. Yet here he is, as the undisputed best pitcher on a pretty solid pitching staff. Since we'll be seeing plenty of young pitching for the rest of the year (and most likely for years to come), this is an important lesson to remember. The course of true love and young starting pitching never did run smooth.

The Reds traded for Mat Latos during the offseason as an attempt to get an ace-caliber pitcher in 2012 and beyond. And they did just that, but it wasn't Latos. Johnny Cueto chose 2012 as the year he put it all together, and the result has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. His ERA leads the NL, as do his 16 wins (for those of you who care about things like that). If he doesn't win the Cy Young, he'll certainly get a chunk of votes.

Wednesday: Pat Corbin (5-5, 3.91) vs. Mat Latos (10-4, 3.84)

Insightful Commentary: The Diamondbacks are starting three rookie pitchers in this series, with an average age of just over 22. This season has been frustrating, to say the least, and at times it's easy to get caught up in the negativity. But giving in to the negative vibes around the teams can obscure the fact that they still have a very bright future in front of them. There are teams I'd trade 25-and-under talent with, but I can count those teams on the fingers of one hand. Skaggs, Miley and Corbin all have a very good chance of being part of that future, and we've all been handed a chance to watch them develop over the next month.

Mat Latos hates the "quality start" statistic, and wants you to hate it too. As a result, he's clearly made a conscious decision to reduce it to absurdity every time he starts. He's had eleven starts where he goes at least seven innings and allows no more than two runs, which is really impressive. But he's also had six starts where he allows at least five runs. With Latos, you have almost no chance of seeing a mediocre start. It's like the birth of a Targaryen. Every time a new Mat Latos start begins, the gods toss a coin in the air, and Reds fans hold their breath to see how it will land.

Final Verdict: I have absolutely no idea how the team will respond to getting swept at home by the Padres for the second time this season. But if I had to guess, I would say that falling seven games off the pace in the NL West isn't likely to breed much confidence in the locker room. At least one young pitcher may step up and surprise us, because that's sort of what they do, but the Reds are very good, and this is the top of their rotation. Reds two games to one.

You know who else avoided Red Reporter(s)? Communists, that's who. So visit for the latest in Reds news.

(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)

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