Series Preview #31: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

Elsa

The Diamondbacks will exit the All Star Break five games over .500 and 2.5 games up in the NL West. If you had told me this in March, without any other context, it would have made me happy.

Sometimes it helps to take a step back, away from the "Dammit Prados" and the "How is this team still in firsts" and look at the 2013 Diamondbacks from a purely results-oriented standpoint. They're on pace to win around 85 games, and, rather more importantly, to win the NL West by three games. Considering that I had them in third place when the season began, this is good news to me.

There's still plenty of time for things to change of course. The team might fade down the stretch and finish below .500, the Dodgers or someone could get really hot and render all of this moot. But the point is: the Diamondbacks are currently more likely to make the playoffs than they were when the season started. That's a win in my book, and for now at least, everything else is just noise.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(50-45)
San Francisco
(43-51)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 90 99 San Francisco
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
97/100 116/106 Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
33.2 27.2

Arizona


Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Giants spent most of the first half walking a delicate tightrope. The pitching staff, for reasons that I'm sure made sense at the time, decided to get together and be awful, so the Giants had to stay in games based largely on the offensive contributions of Brandon Crawford and Angel Pagan.

It lasted longer than it seems like it should have. The Giants were just 1.5 games back on June 19, thanks in no small part to the team from Arizona. But the last month or so of games has seen them go 6-17, which is the sort of stretch that gets you thinking about selling at the deadline even in the NL West. Several bats went cold at the same time, they dealt with some bullpen trouble, and the rotation continued to struggle. It's the sort of stretch that people keep projecting for the Diamondbacks, but hasn't quite happened yet.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Gerardo Parra, RF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Aaron Hill, 2B
5. Jason Kubel, LF
6. Martin Prado, 3B
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS

San Francisco Giants

1. Gregor Blanco, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Buster Posey, C
4. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Andres Torres, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS

It sometimes amazes me how quickly we collectively get tired of exciting young baseball players. Buster Posey showed up in 2010, stepped gingerly over Bengie Molina's decaying corpse, and led the Giants to their first World Series win since moving to San Francisco.

Then, the season after Scott Cousins happened, all he did was put up almost 8 WAR as a 25-year-old catcher en route to an MVP and another World Series title. And he's on almost the same pace this year. I mean, people know he's good, but...c'mon guys. Usually underrated players are guys who should be All-Stars but are treated like ordinary guys. Buster Posey is treated like an garden variety All-Star, when he should be treated like one of the top three or four position players in baseball.

Pablo Sandoval tends to be at his worst in years where his teams win World Series. This is the most KNBR observation imaginable, but it does augur rather well for this year's Giants. Sandoval is on pace for his worst overall season since at least 2010, and possibly of his entire career.

I get Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, and Angel Pagan mixed up, which is sorta embarrassing since they play for a division rival and two of them were traded for each other. Whatever. They're all vaguely interchangeable outfielders who field alright in both center and left field and put up slash lines of .270/.330/.370 or so. One of them is out, one of them has been starting, and one of them is battling a leg injury but should be good to go for the series. Look up which one is which on your own time.

It's been essentially a year since the Marco Scutaro trade, and he's managed to hit .336/.375/.406 since coming to San Fran. I guess they deserve it, after Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. But that doesn't make it less annoying.

The general tone I've taken with Brandon Crawford is one of condescension. His hot start was cute while it lasted, but let's not pretend like he's actually as good as he started. And he had a rough month of June that knocked his numbers down a peg. The reason I'm holding to this is because I'm secretly terrified that he's transforming into the Giants' equivalent of Gerardo Parra, and I'm not okay with that.

Starting Pitchers:

Friday: Ian Kennedy (3-6, 5.42) vs. Chad Gaudin (3-1, 2.39)

Insightful Commentary: I guess if I have to choose, Kennedy's biggest problem in the first half was his declining strikeout rate. When Kennedy struggles, he'll get ahead of batters and find himself unable or unwilling to put them away, and the strikeout rate reflects that. Or maybe his biggest problem was his rising walk rate. Or maybe it's the fact that he's allowing more homers on top of the walk rate. Or maybe it's the fact that he's been pitching considerably worse with runners on base. Kennedy has a lot of biggest problems in 2013.

One of the most frustrating (for Giant fans, at least) aspect of the team is how little pitching depth the Giants went into the season with. Looking at the team's Triple-A rotation is like looking in 2008's discard pile (Yusmeiro Petit! Boof Bosner!). The team began the year with the frightening knowledge that Chad Gaudin was the team's last best hope if a rotation member was injured or ineffective. And even weirder, he's worked out perfectly. Gaudin isn't pitching as well as his ERA, but a FIP of 3.28 is still just dandy.

Saturday: Wade Miley (6-7, 4.01) vs. Matt Cain (5-6, 5.06)

Insightful Commentary: I'm probably the only one who thinks this is cool, but in his career, Miley has just three months with an ERA over four. September 2011, September 2012, and May 2013. It's going to take me a while before I trust Miley as a front-line starter again, but for a young pitcher, that's not really so bad.

Sometime during Spring Training, Chad Gaudin called Matt Cain over to his locker, offered him a bottle of what he said was a "health supplement," and when each of them woke up the next morning they had switched bodies. It's true; it was actually the basis for a proposed Freaky Friday sequel before Lindsey Lohan expressed concerns that the Chad Gaudin character was too unlikeable. Cain's run into some bad luck with his Strand Rate, but part of that comes from an increased walk rate and the highest HR/9 of his career.

Sunday: Randall Delgado (1-3, 3.92) vs. Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.02)

Insightful Commentary: There's been a fair bit of waiting for the other shoe to drop with Delgado so far. His HR/9 is firmly in "It can't actually be this bad, can it" territory. But for a guy who's had problems with home runs in the minors and starts half of his games at Chase Field, it can absolutely be this bad. Meanwhile, his walk rate is in "It can't possibly be this good, can it" mode, except in this case there's no reason hidden in his track record to suggest that it will continue. We'll see what happens.

Bumgarner has been a blissful port in the storm that was Giant pitching in the first half. His walks are up a tad in 2013, but so are his strikeouts. It's worth keeping an eye on his BABIP, which sits at .228, but his FIP is still only 3.27, so it's probably not worth getting too excited to watch regression in action.

Three Pressing Questions:

What ever happened to that Ryan Vogelsong fellow? Jim's been waiting gleefully for Vogelsong to finally regress for about two years, and in 2013 he finally got his wish. His BABIP spiked, but so did his walks and home runs, and his ERA sat at 7.19 after nine starts before the team shut him down with what turned out to be a fractured right hand. He'll be 37 in 2014, which means it's fair to wonder about his future.

Hunter Pence: Alien or not? Plenty of people think so, and It's certainly crossed my mind. My working theory is that he isn't an alien, but rather an over-exuberant 6-year-old trapped in the body of a baseball player. It would explain a lot.

So, if the Giants do end up selling, who do they sell? Two World Series in three years suggests that the core of this team is still fine, so I'm not expecting any wholesale changes at the deadline no matter what. They might move Scutaro, who's in the middle of a very good year, or Sergio Romo, who's a Proven Closer (TM). The wild card is Tim Lincecum, who probably isn't going to be resigned after this season but who will be difficult to move because he's Tim Lincecum.

Giants Blog: McCovey Chronicles.

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

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