Series Preview #24: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Cincinnati Reds

Young Jeter: Origins - Jonathan Daniel

If nothing else, playing the Reds makes me incredibly happy that the Diamondbacks currently reside in the NL West. Because as mediocre as the team has seemed for what feels like forever, we can still construct an argument that the D-Backs are the best team in the division without sounding like complete homers.

Seriously, give it a whirl. The Rockies have gone 24-32 since the middle of April, and now they have to go without Troy Tulowitzki for a few weeks.

The Giants have been outscored, four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation currently has an ERA of over 4.5, and they've only been as competitive as they are because of unsustainable crazytown seasons from both members of their middle infield. The Padres' best pitcher is probably Eric Stults, and the Dodgers are going through pairs of pants, trying to find the receipt for the 2012-13 offseason. It's not crazy that the Diamondbacks are the team to beat.

The NL Central, though...

The D-Backs would be seven back in the Central now, and they'd be in fourth place. You think this place is testy now, just imagine if the team were on the fringes of the Wild Card conversation. And in that case, even the optimists would be testy, because if the season ended now, getting a Wild Card would mean a one-game playoff with the second-best team in the NL, the Cincinnati Reds.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(39-33)
Cincinnati
(44-30)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 90 97 Cincinnati
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
94/95 85/93
Cincinnati
Fielding (UZR):
14.9 8.6

Arizona


Good/bad news for people who were concerned that the D-Backs were just a bit too even with the Marlins earlier this week, because these guys are clearly not the Marlins. Their uniforms say so and everything.

The Reds sport a generally average offense, with that wRC+ being good for 16th in the league. Perhaps surprisingly for a team with Dusty Baker as the manager, the Reds main offensive skill is taking walks, and they lead the NL in the category.

If you're like me you're a bit surprised at how good the Reds' pitching has been this year. And if you're like me, and you're guessing that most of that has to do with the same lights-out bullpen as last year, you're not right either. The bullpen is middle of the pack in ERA-, Chapman and the back end have been excellent, but the rest have been kind of meh.

No, the Reds have been successful because their starters have been phenomenal. The Reds are second in baseball in Starter ERA-, and of 77 games the Reds have played this year, 76 have been started by a guy with an ERA below 4. At Great American Ballpark, that's pretty nice.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

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

Cincinnati Reds

1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Zack Cozart, SS
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Brandon Phillips, 2B
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Xavier Paul, LF
8. Devin Mesoraco, C

Importantly:

Joey Votto Paul Goldschmidt
AVG .321 .301
OPS .944 .937
ISO% .186 .256
fWAR 3.2 2.7

Goldy's recent slump gives Votto a bit of an edge in Batting Average and it opens up his lead in OBP. Still, Goldy's hitting for noticeably more power than Votto, and I haven't watched enough Reds baseball to know how Votto's defense compares. Still, it's close but I think I'd choose Votto if I could only have one NL first base--wait a second...

Joey Votto Paul Goldschmidt
Contract 13 years/$263 million 5 years/$32 million

Oh, right.

The difference, of course, is the talent that the two teams have around them in the lineup. Given that this team won 97 games last year, there was no reason to trade for Shin-Soo Choo unless they believed that he would be the final missing piece.

Whether he can do that remains to be seen, but he's certainly been a nice addition, with an OBP of .425 that sets the table wonderfully for the middle of the order. Put another way, they probably aren't hate-watching the Diamondbacks to see how Gregorius is doing.

Speaking of Gregorius, they wouldn't have traded their former prospect if they didn't have faith in Cozart. While he'll be 28 before the end of the year and probably isn't going to become much more than he already is, the Reds seem to be okay with that. Cozart is a solid defensive Shortstop who would be more than that if he could muster even an adequate walk rate.

Brandon Phillips is probably a bit past his peak as one of the best offensive Second Basemen in baseball, but he's still a valuable contributor. After sneaking into Rookie of the Year consideration last year, Todd Fraizer's OPS has dropped a bit, but he's been raking in June so far.

Jay Bruce has an OPS+ of 118 in 2013, and that's mainly noteworthy because he finished with an OPS+ of 118 in 2011 and 2012 too, which is sort of cool. Also, keep an eye on Left Field, where Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson have formed a sneaky-good platoon.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Wade Miley (4-6, 4.64) vs. Johnny Cueto (4-0, 2.08)

Insightful Commentary: Well, the first three innings went swimmingly enough for Miley in his last start, but giving up five runs in an inning can place a damper on an outing pretty quickly.

After morphing into Cincy's ace over the last couple of year, big things were expected of Cueto in 2013. While all of his numbers have been fine, he's been hampered by a right shoulder sprain for much of the season, and has only pitched 43 innings so far. But given that his first start off the DL was a six inning victory where he allowed just a run, it looks like he's been just fine so far.

Saturday: Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.28) vs. Mike Leake (7-3, 2.64)

Insightful Commentary: In the spirit of fairness, if we criticize Bell for not working around Giancarlo Stanton, we can't not criticize Corbin, since they were working off of the same game plan. But the spirit of fairness didn't have much to do with that game, given that that was the only really bad pitch Corbin threw that game. But of course, it's hard to tell how much of that was Corbin pitching well, and how much of that was Eau de Marlin.

I was ready to accept Leake as a pretty ready-made mid-rotation guy for the rest of his career and he may still be that. But for now, he has an ERA well under three at Great American Ballpark, and that stands out. He's successfully cut his homers, which is a necessity to pitch at GAB, by increasing his Ground Ball rate. While his Strand Rate is higher than normal, his BABIP is not abnormally low, so don't expect tons of regression unless his pitches start flying over walls again.

Sunday: Randall Delgado (0-0, 4.00) vs. Mat Latos (6-1, 3.20)

Insightful Commentary: Total 2013 Quality Starts from Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury: 1

Total 2013 Quality Starts from Chris Johnson and Justin Upton: 0

Flawless victory.

As one might expect, the biggest adjustment that Latos had to make last year when he switched from having Petco Park as his home park to pitching at Great American Ballpark was the fact that balls don't have to fly 600 feet through molasses air in GAB to be considered home runs. And his HR/9 jumped accordingly. Surprisingly though, his HR/9 is down to 0.75 this year, which is almost exactly what he averaged during his time as a Padre. I don't know if he can keep it that low, but it does explain his improvement in his second year as a Red.

Three Pressing Questions:

What's the over/under on the number of times the booth mentions that Mike Leake went to ASU during his start on Saturday? I haven't been paying attention to whether this is still a meme with the new booth, so I'm going to be conservative and start the line at 4.5 mentions.

Whatever happened to Billy Hamilton? You remember Billy Hamilton, the Reds minor leaguer who has stolen 365 bases over parts of 5 seasons, including a record 155 last year in 132 games. Regrettably, as fun as they are to watch, one-tool players are hard to fit onto a 25-man roster, particularly when they bat .243/.302/.339 in Triple-A. But I'd be pretty surprised if we don't see him in September.

At Reds games, do baseballs sometimes turn into giant flying insects and try to sting you? Probably not, but this kid sure thinks they do.

Reds Blog: Red Reporter

(All Stats from Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)

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