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Series Preview #3: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Cincinnati Reds

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After their first road trip and journey through the rotation, the Diamondbacks sit at 2-3 heading into their home debut at Chase Field.  While the deserve credit for at least keeping their collective head above water on the road, this upcoming series will be a challenge, as they host the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds made the playoffs for the first time in a billion 15 years last season, taking a major step in a rebuilding movement that has been going on since about 2006 in Cincinnati.  At this point, they are almost to the top of the  "small-market rebuilding pyramid," which is shaped roughly as so:

Year 1: Trade veterans for young players
Year 2-3: Let young players develop
Year 4: Young players develop enough to make playoffs; have short, "just happy to be here" postseason stay
Year 5: Go deep into playoffs?  Win World Series?
Year 6: OH CRAP FREE AGENCY
Year 7-12: Cycle of despair where everyone involved with the team gets fired.

As a fan of a fellow rebuilding small-market baseball team, I'm a little irate that the Reds have actually been able to follow this formula rather well.  They're in about their fifth year of rebuilding, and they just came off a 91-win season. They've developed excellent young position players, with a rotation that has a bit more learning to do but is solid nonetheless.  And then they go and supplement that core with talented veterans?  It's not even fair.  I mean the Diamondbacks have basically been consistently "rebuilding" since 2004, pausing partway up the rebuilding pyramid to chop off the top and build a bust of Dan Haren instead.  And that's not even the worst rebuilding situation in Major League Baseball right now.  The Royals and Pirates have been trying to make their way to the top of the rebuilding pyramid for so long that Sisyphus stopped rolling his boulder just to stop and laugh at their futility.

Follow me for more nerdy classics references numbers n' stuff after the jump.

What the Stats Say:

                             Arizona (2-3)                                  Cincinnati (5-1)                              Edge

Hitting (wOBA):    .326                                                  .406                                        Cincinnati

Pitching (FIP):      4.37                                                  3.88                                        Cincinnati

Fielding (UZR):     N/A                                                   N/A                                            None

The numbers say that Cincinnati can pure, straight rake.  While they are certainly not going to have a team wOBA over .400 (with a BA of .339, if you prefer that sort of thing) all season, this is a unit that had the highest OPS in the National League last season, so this isn't just a fluke.  Last season, the Reds had exactly one starter with an OPS+ below 100, and that poor fellow is no longer with the team.  Guess he just didn't fit in with the rest of the lineup.  Speaking of which...

Projected Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Stephen Drew (if he's able), SS
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Miguel Montero, C
Chris Young, CF
Juan Miranda, 1B
Ryan Roberts, 3B
Gerardo Parra, LF

Cincinnati Reds

Drew Stubbs, CF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Joey Votto, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jay Bruce, RF
Jonny Gomes, LF
Ramon Hernandez, C
Paul Janish, SS

Joey Votto, Joey Votto, Joey Votto.  He's pretty good.  Let me put it this way: last year Albert Pujols hit .314/.414/.596.  Those are Hall of Fame numbers if extrapolated over an entire career.  And yet, last year he probably wasn't even the best player at his position in his own division because in walked some goofy Canadian who hit a cool .324/.424/.600 en route to getting the NL MVP.  Sure it's just one year, but anyone who can stand up to the Great Pujols and win at the age of 27 has a nice future ahead of him.  And the rest of the gang is pretty good as well.  Brandon Philips is a couple points of OBP away from being a star.  Jay Bruce was considered a better prospect than Votto, and has produced quite nicely in his own right, as he's hit over 20 home runs in all three of his pro seasons.  Scott Rolen is the token veteran, and is responsible for scowling and telling kids to get off his lawn.  He also had an OPS+ of 129 last year, so that's nice.  Drew Stubbs and Paul Janish (or perhaps its "Yanish," it might be a soft "j") are pesky hitters who both improved greatly from 2009 to 2010. 

 

Pitching Match ups:

Friday: Travis Wood vs. Ian Kennedy

Insightful Commentary: Travis Wood was one of the unsung heroes of Reds' 91-win 2010 campaign.  Despite not making the Opening Day roster, he started 27 games and was an important cog in a rotation that was better than it was expected to be.  He's a lefty who overcomes a mediocre fastball (high 80s on average) with good off-speed stuff.  He doesn't strike out a ton of batters but makes up for it by walking even fewer.  The only frightening thing about Wood (for Reds fans at least), is his FB%, which was 48.1% last season.  Look for the outfielders to be busy in this match up between Wood and Kennedy (FB%: 44.1 last year). 

Saturday: Bronson Arroyo vs. Daniel Hudson

Insightful Commentary: Bronson Arroyo is the sturdy workhorse of the Reds pitching staff, having pitched at least 190 innings every year since 2004.  His ERA has remained in the high 3s or low 4s for the past few seasons, and there is little reason not to expect more of the same this year.  He's often overlooked, but there are not many more reliable, front-line starters than Bronson Arroyo.  Contrast this with Daniel Hudson, who we've seen be brilliant in the past, but who has started all of 16 games in the major leagues.  This is the Match up of the Series, in my opinion, with the trusted workhorse in Arroyo going up against the young gun in Hudson.

Sunday: Mike Leake vs. Joe Saunders

Insightful Commentary: Former ASU star Mike Leake makes his triumphant return to Phoenix!  While he received a lot of praise for contributing to the major league rotation just a year after being drafted, his numbers in his first season weren't anything special.  While his ERA was a respectable 4.23, his WHIP was 1.5, which will have to go down if he wants to improve.  Leake's season was cut short last year by his going on the DL in late August, due to shoulder tightness.  Meanwhile, Joe Saunders last season walked too many batters, didn't strike out enough batters, and gave up an above-average number of home runs just for good measure, helping him win the Triple Crown of poor peripherals.  I still believe he has the repertoire to be a solid mid-rotation fixture, but he's going to have to improve on these facets of his game. 

 

Final Verdict: There's nothing in the stats or match ups that would suggest that the Diamondbacks will win this series.  That certainly doesn't mean they can't, but the odds aren't in their favor.  They're trotting out their best three starters, which is good, and they'll be playing at home in front of a good crowd (hopefully).  But the Reds have one of the best lineups in baseball right now, and they can mash from top to bottom.  I expect at least one Diamondback starter to get blowed up good, and I expect the Reds to win this series 2 games to one.

If you want to hear the Reds' side of the story, head on over to the always funny and insightful Red Reporter for the best in Reds coverage.

But as always, go D-Backs!

(Batting stats from Baseball-Reference, pitching stats from Fangraphs)