Series Preview #35: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Boston Red Sox

Jim Rogash

Tonight, on a very special episode of Series Previews...

Thanks for ruining the NL West, Boston.

It's August now, which means it's been almost a full year since Boston pulled off one of the strangest trades of my lifetime. I know why they did it, that was never the question. The Red Sox were desperate, en route to their worst season since 1965. They had paid a lot of money for the privilege of having that season too, and bad, expensive teams tend to want to pay less, even if it means losing a bit more in the short term.

But christ, Boston, you can't just leave all of your cool weapons with whatever back-alley street urchin shows you some money and a few shiny prospects. It's socially irresponsible, for one thing.

See, contrary to the constant string of validation that ESPN feeds you, there are actually teams outside the AL East. And when you show up and hand one of them an unmarked envelope filled with 114 career fWAR, you can't really fault the rest for getting annoyed with you for meddling in that which you never truly understood.

The Dodgers are going to win the World Series now, according to Dan Bickley, and then how will you feel? Keep in mind that these Dodgers play in the same city as the Lakers, and they emigrated from the same city as the Yankees. Does that make you feel good? No? Well you did this to yourselves.

So yeah, you're back to your winning ways, Red Sox, but at what cost? At what cost?

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(55-53)
Boston
(66-44)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 91 112 Boston
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
94/100 90/94 Boston
Fielding (UZR):
35.7 -0.1

Arizona


But, annoying as it is, the Red Sox have been much better than average this year, which is increasingly becoming a diplomatic way of saying that they're much better than the Diamondbacks.

We sort of knew that the offense was going to be strong this year, but the pitching has been a surprise, at least to me. The starters have been particularly stupendous, with the fourth-best ERA- in baseball at the moment. And considering that last year they finished fifth-worst with many of the same pitchers, that's a remarkable turnaround.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Adam Eaton, LF
2. AJ Pollock, CF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Aaron Hill, 2B
5. Martin Prado, 3B
6. Gerardo Parra, RF
7. Cody Ross, DH
8. Wil Nieves, C
9. Didi Gregorius, SS


1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Mike Carp, LF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

I guess having lineups without holes must be something of an AL East thing. Someone should really tell the Yankees about this trend before all the other teams start looking down on them.

Just two players in the everyday lineup have an OPS+ below 100. Stephen Drew (!) is a shortstop, and he's been right about average since the end of April, so no complaints there.

Victorino is a 32-year-old corner outfielder who's around until 2016 and currently has an OPS+ of 97, so he's a bit more of a problem. But still, when your biggest problem is that you have an older outfielder with an ever-so-slightly declining bat, you won't get sympathy from a fan of a team that employs Jason Kubel.

Otherwise, it's pretty stacked. Ortiz remains one of the premiere hitters in baseball, even though 38 seems a bit old to still be OPSing 1.000. Ellsbury doesn't always stay healthy, but when he does, he's essentially the lost prime of Grady Sizemore. Pedroia's the same as he ever was, which is a robustly above-average 2B on both offense and defense, and that combo makes him elite at the position.

The Mariners have had the worst offensive half-decade of any franchise in my lifetime, so you'd think that when a 25-year-old outfielder with an OPS+ of 125 falls into their laps, they might want to keep him around. But nah, why have Mike Carp when you can sign Jason Bay, amirite M's? And all Carp's done for Boston is mash righties to the tune of .325/.392/.627 this year.

The only other weak spot in the lineup is Third Base, where Jose Iglesias was a pleasant surprise before getting traded to the Tigers as part of the Peavy deal. So that position is up for grabs at the moment. Brock Holt seems to be the guy for now, but Will Middlebrooks and superprospect Xander Bogaerts are just a phone call away if Holt struggles.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Randall Delgado (3-3, 2.85) vs. Jon Lester (10-6, 4.27)

Insightful Commentary: Yeah, it's not a typo anymore: Delgado's ERA is actually below 3. I don't think I'm going out on a huge limb in saying that this is Delgado's biggest challenge of the season, though. Fenway's a hitter-happy ballpark and the Red Sox have no shortage of hitters to enjoy it. Delgado's allowed just one homer in his last four starts after giving up six in his first five. This would be a nice time to see that trend continue.

As good as he was at the beginning of his career, Lester has an ERA of 4.60 since the start of the 2012 season, which is just a touch higher than Ian Kennedy's over the same stretch. Lester's strikeouts are noticeably down during that stretch, and his LD% has increased to go with it. These aren't good signs, but he's only 29 and he still has plenty of time to bounce back.

Saturday: Patrick Corbin (12-2, 2.24) vs. Jake Peavy (8-4, 4.28)

Insightful Commentary: Three of Corbin's four highest strikeout totals this season have come in his past four starts. A big part of why this impresses me so much is that it's happening well after people learned who Pat Corbin was. He's not a nobody anymore, and he hasn't been since at least the end of May. And he's a fairly predictable pitcher: well-located fastballs to get ahead before finishing them off with a slider out of the zone. He might work in a few changeups to right-handers, but that's pretty much his thing. Batters know what he's doing, they have to know, but they still aren't ready for it.

I'm taking Red Sox writers at their word when they say Peavy will start here, since the Diamondbacks' website has told me no such thing. If so, it's Peavy's first start for other Sox, after spending parts of five seasons in Chicago. After looking like an ace at times in San Diego, his tenure with the White Sox has to qualify as a disappointment. Still, he can strike guys out at an above-average rate, and he doesn't walk many. The homers are a problem, but guys with K:BB's like Peavy tend to get paid a lot. And the Red Sox essentially got him for Jose Iglesias.

Sunday: Brandon McCarthy (2-4, 5.00) vs. Felix Doubront (7-5, 3.77)

Insightful Commentary: It's been more than two months since we last saw Brandon McCarthy, so let's get a refresher on how his season has gone: first he gave up a bunch of balls in play that no one caught, and then he gave up a bunch of balls in play that people did catch, and then his shoulder exploded. What it lacks as a fairy tale it makes up as a reasonably effective pitching strategy. As long as he isn't walking anyone (and he wasn't before the injury) and he isn't giving up line drives (that's a bit dicier, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt), I like his chances down the stretch in front of the best defense in the NL.

I'm guessing a bit here, but I assume Doubront is staying in the rotation over Brandon Workman, so I think we'll see him here. Doubront is best remembered by casual fans as a huge part of that giant collapse in 2011, which has disguised the fact that he's only 25 and has quietly gotten better for two years in a row. He generally pitches with a lot of runners on base, but his strikeout rate is good enough that they don't really score much.

Three Pressing Questions:

What will we hear more about in this series, how good of fans the Red Sox have, or Dustin Pedroia's choice of college? This is legitimately a tough one. It's seemingly impossible to go to Fenway without someone praising the atmosphere of the ballpark, but Pedroia just got a new contract, and that's going to get him talked about a lot. Overall, I'll say Red Sox Fans, just because Berthiaume is from there and will probably play it up.

Wither Xander Bogaerts? Bogaerts was recently named the fourth-best prospect in baseball, and perhaps the most likely to make an impact on the majors the rest of the way. I believe Red Sox prospects tend to get overrated because of all the attention they receive, but when 20-year-olds hit .279/.383/.481 in Triple-A, they probably deserve some attention. Pawtucket ain't Reno, either. He'll be up by September, barring injuries.

So is this a must-win series? The simple answer is no, because two more months and all that. But the Dodgers are playing a bad team this weekend, so there's a non-zero chance that the D-Backs might finish this series 6.5 games back of LA, and teams that are 6.5 back in August don't have a great track record of making the playoffs.

It's not a "must-win," but it's pretty close to a "must-not-get-swept."

Red Sox Blog: Over the Monster

(All stats via Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)

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