Series Preview #8: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

Doug Pensinger

Want to fill precious column space in late April? Have you considered trying to write a "Is [Team X] for Real?" article? Follow this easy 10-step general structure:

1. [Team X] wasn't supposed to be good this year...

2. BUT, in a twist never before seen in Major League Baseball, [Team X] has been good early in the season.

3. [Team X] has been getting some unexpected contributions from [generic journeyman pitcher no one has thought about since 2009] and [unheralded young player who is probably outplaying his peripherals].

4. These players have combined with [actual good player who casual fans only know about because they propose that their team trade for him every July] to overachieve so far.

4. Will it continue?

5. You're a sportswriter, so you have no earthly idea. Instead of making actual predictions, just say things like:

6. "It's early." And,

7. "There's still a lot of season left to be played." Not to mention,

8. "Divisions aren't won in April."

9. So are they contenders?

10. Who knows? But probably not.

As you've probably already figured out, the Rockies are playing the role of [Team X] in 2013. The Rockies have been brought low by a veritable avalanche of such articles. They all come to similar conclusions, namely that the Rockies' starting pitching probably won't be good enough over the long-haul to keep them in it, and there's a lot of validity to that comment. But at the same time...

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(12-9)
Colorado
(14-7)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 92 109
Colorado
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
88/85 97/92
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
5.0 2.6

Arizona

It's obviously early (I know, I know, I just made fun of writers who do this), but the Rockies offense should be good enough to keep the team competitive. That wRC+ should go down a bit, and it has gone down since six days ago when I last wrote one of these about the Rockies. But they have five regulars who I would bet on being comfortably above-average in 2013, barring injury.

This team is going to go as far as their pitching takes them. Their FIP is rather weird, considering that FIP is based heavily on strikeouts, and the Rockies have the worst K% in the NL at the moment. That may improve, and it's not a death sentence even if it doesn't. The Athletics were in the same general stratosphere in K% last year and things worked out fine for them, as you may recall. But it's something to keep an eye on, particularly in Coors Field, where balls put in play tend to go rather farther than normal.

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Cody Ross, LF
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Didi Gregorius, SS
8. Cliff Pennington, 2B

Colorado Rockies

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Josh Rutledge, 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Todd Helton, 1B
7. Wilin Rosario, C
8. Chris Nelson, 3B

Fowler, Gonzalez, Tulowitzki, and Rosario have two things in common: they're on the fun side of the aging curve, and they all currently have OPSes over .800. When looking for an offensive core, that's a pretty good place to start.

Add in Michael Cuddyer, who isn't going to hit .343/.413/.612 all year but still should be a plus on offense, and the Rockies are going to score this year. You know this. The more interesting part is what the rest of the lineup can do.

Chris Nelson's the de facto seat-warmer for super-prospect Nolan Arenado at third. Odds are we'll see Arenado sooner rather than later, and one of Nelson and Jordan Pacheco will move to first to spell Helton more and more as the season progresses. Helton seems to have finally realized that he's 39 (!), and has an OPS of .748, which would be fine under some circumstances, but qualifies as well below average for a first baseman at Coors Field.

Pitching Matchups:

Thursday: Jorge De La Rosa (2-1, 2.82) vs. Trevor Cahill (0-3, 3.60)

Insightful Commentary: If this set-up looks familiar, it's because we're still on cycle with the Rockies, so we're going to see a couple of the same pitching matchups as we saw last week. And given that De La Rosa just pitched 6 scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks while making them look pretty much useless at the plate, I'm not overjoyed at seeing him again.

Chris Cwik of Fangraphs wrote an interesting article about a week ago. Essentially, he noticed (as I have) that Cahill's strikeouts have slowly increased since he got to Arizona, and Cwik attributes this to the implementation of a cutter in Cahill's repertoire, which he developed last year and has used more this year. Since it comes at the expense of his sinker, Cahill's Ground Ball Rate is down this season, but he's getting more strikeouts (7.1 per nine as opposed to just 5.5 in Oakland), and he's able to survive starts like his last one, when his sinker simply didn't work.

Friday: Juan Nicasio (2-0, 5.31) vs. Brandon McCarthy (0-2, 7.06)

Insightful Commentary: The D-Backs weren't ever really able to put up a crooked number against Nicasio, but they did have a rather better approach against him than against Chacin or De La Rosa, and he only lasted 4.1 innings. Given how the D-Backs' bats were looking at that point, it counted as a victory.

Four runs in six innings probably doesn't count as an encouraging start for most pitchers, but given how he's been struggling to start the season, I imagine McCarthy will take it. While he did surrender a home run, in general the hits were more of the bloop variety than serious contact. Still the fact that he's gotten five or fewer swings and misses in three of his four starts is fairly concerning. I'm trying to give him a chance, but I'm getting a distinctly Zach Duke-like vibe from this whole experience at the moment.

Saturday: Jeff Francis (1-2, 8.44) vs. Wade Miley (2-0, 2.77)

Insightful Commentary: Based on the three guys we saw in Denver (two of whom we'll see again to begin this series, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Rockies rotation could be alright this year. And then you look down and realize that they're expecting Jeff Francis to pitch reasonably important innings for them. Since 2007, when he passed as an impromptu ace for the World Series-bound Rockies, Francis has an ERA of 5.16. His career K/9 is under six. I mean, there are worse options to pitch at Coors Field, but, yikes.

Wade Miley Home Run Watch: still only one all year, and none in his past three starts. It's possible I made too much of this whole "Wade Miley gonna give out homers like Oprah gives out cars" thing.

Sunday: Jon Garland (2-1, 4.68) vs. Pat Corbin (2-0, 1.71)

Insightful Commentary: Jon Garland's been on an interesting* ride since the Diamondbacks traded him to Los Angeles in 2009 (Remember when we were excited about Tony Abreu? Twas a simpler time.). He apparently pitched 200 innings for the San Diego Padres in 2010, and I say "apparently" because I have literally no memory of this happening, even though I root for a team that plays the Padres 18 times a season.

Then he went back to the Dodgers, because a half season is never enough Jon Garland. Then he got injured and sat out in 2012, even though he got an Spring Training invite from the Indians, which he declined because he didn't feel like taking a physical. He broke camp with the Mariners this year, but now he's in Colorado striking out a batter every couple innings or so. This has been your much-needed Jon Garland update.

*"Interesting" is probably the wrong word.

Five Pressing (?) Questions:

What's the coldest game ever played at Coors Field? Funny you should ask, given that it happened on Wednesday. The game time temperature was 23 degree Fareinheit, which also happens to be the coldest game in MLB history. Or at least, when they started counting such things in 1991. But that sounds way less impressive.

What's the coldest game ever played at Chase Field? Any game that Jorge Julio played in, am I right? SICK 2006 BURN!!!

Whatever happened to those pitching prospects that the Rockies got for Ubaldo Jimenez? Well, things aren't looking great for Alex White, who got traded for a six-pack of Sam's Club soda after his DUI. He's currently scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery in Houston.

Well that sucks, especially the part where he plays for the Astros. And the other dude? Drew Pomeranz, who occasionally gets compared to Tyler Skaggs, may have been the Rockies best pitcher last year, with a 4.97 ERA. He didn't crack the Opening Day rotation, nor was he first in line for a promotion. Tyler Chatwood got called up after Chacin's injury.

Wait, Chacin got injured? Yep, he's on the 15-day DL after leaving the first game of the D-Backs series prematurely. It's a lower back injury, and it doesn't sound serious, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Rockies Blog: Purple Row

(All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)

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