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Series Preview #13: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Overpaid Dodger Twin powers, activate!
Overpaid Dodger Twin powers, activate!

So, that was frustrating.  After spending the past three games flailing at Giant pitching with runners in scoring position, the Diamondbacks finish up their California Calamity Tour (TM), against the hated Los Angeles Dodgers.  The trip has earned that name by being an unmitigated disaster thus far, and it is a couple of losses away from looking eerily similar to a certain road trip last year around this time that squashed any remaining hope for the playoffs in 2010.  I suppose the good news is that the Diamondbacks have actually outscored their opponents on the trip by a run (17-16).  The bad news is that they've gone 1-5 over that time, losing each and every game by one run.  Sigh... I suppose the team is still paying off its mojo from 2007, where they won 90 games despite being outscored. 

As for the Dodgers, they've made plenty of headlines this season, for reason both good and not-so-good.  The team's actual play, however, has been maddeningly inconsistent, as the team has hovered around .500 for much of the 2011 season.  They enter the upcoming series a game ahead of Arizona in the loss column, with an overall record of 18-20.  Like evidently every other NL team that plays baseball in California, the Dodgers have a great rotation, but have struggled mightily to score runs this season.  They just won what was supposed to be a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates two games to one, as the final game was rained out.  Hopefully this means they'll be jet lagged and frustrated by the time they get back to Dodger Stadium.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):

                          Arizona (15-21)                                Los Angeles (18-20)                                        Edge

Hitting (wRC+):    94                                                          92                                                          Arizona

Pitching (FIP):     4.27                                                      3.95                                                     Los Angeles

Fielding* (UZR):   8.5                                                       -1.9                                                         Arizona

The immediate takeaway from this is that the Diamondbacks' offense is dropping off in a hurry, since we had a wRC+ of 100 before the Road Trip From Hell began.  As I mentioned, the Dodgers have had a hard time scoring runs this season, with only 140 on the season, which puts them 17 runs behind the D-Backs, but comfortably ahead of the two teams that just wiped the floor with the D-Backs, so maybe I shouldn't even mention it.  The Dodgers pitching has been generally adequate, but their bullpen has been a problem, as they have a collective ERA of 5.12.  This is based off of an FIP of 4.22, so there's reason to believe that unsightly ERA will drop in the future, but even accounting for regression, an FIP of 4.22 is still only good for 26th out of 30 teams.  As a fan of 2010 Diamondbacks, who had one of the worst bullpens in modern baseball history, I can attest that rooting for a team with a shoddy bullpen is one of the most frustrating things in baseball.  There's nothing in baseball more disheartening than watching your team build a lead only to blow it at the end, and for a team to do it on a regular basis does terrible things to the psyche.  As a fan, you start panicking when your starter starts to fade, then slim leads start feeling like deficits, and small deficits feel unassailable.  It's not a fate I would wish on anyone, except for Dodger fans.  Haha Dodgers.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Chris Young, CF
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Juan Miranda, 1B
Miguel Montero, C
Ryan Roberts, 3B
Gerardo Parra, LF

Los Angeles Dodgers

Jamey Carroll, SS
Aaron Miles, 2B
Andre Either, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Jerry Sands, LF

So this is what $103 million buys you?  Matt Kemp and Andre Either are both elite players at their positions, and both are having monster seasons with OPS+ of 171 and 166, respectively.  Both are stars who are just entering their primes for a storied franchise that plays in a major city, but somehow neither have gotten the national attention they deserve.  Seriously, I can't stand the Dodgers, so the fact that I'm arguing on behalf of their two best players should really say something.  

Sadly, the rest of the lineup doesn't quite measure up to their standard.  Juan Uribe is only starting due to an injury to Casey Blake, so he kind of gets a pass here.  But since the team's "Plan A" was to go into the season with 37-year-old third baseman who put up an OPS of .727 the previous year, they really should have seen this coming.  Jamey Carroll is having a good season so far, putting up an OPS+ of 110, but he's 37, and has never put up an OPS+ over 94 in a full season.  Also, I honestly thought he retired in 2007.  Aaron Miles rolled off the assembly line of the "St. Louis Forgettable White Middle Infielder Emporium" in 2008 and has bounced around the league ever since.  Rod Barajas is the highest paid catcher in a division that also features Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Nick Hundley (one of the most underrated players in baseball this year).  For all the complaining about the Diamondbacks' first base woes, James Loney makes our three-headed first base platoon (lovingly referred to as "Jussavier Branandy" by absolutely no one) look positively adequate by comparison.  Loney has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball this year, with all of two extra base hits in 147 plate appearances. 

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Joe Saunders (0-4, 5.72) vs. Clayton Kershaw (4-3, 3.12)

Insightful Commentary: Normally I'd make some joke about how lopsided this pitching matchup is or something, but that's not even fun anymore.  Joe Saunders has been a disappointment as a number 3 starter, where he was expected to at least play up to his career numbers.  Enright has already gotten replaced, and Galarraga may follow shortly, but Saunders is probably going to be part of the rotation for the rest of the season, barring injury or trade.  So with that in mind, he needs to pitch better, period.  Kershaw has blossomed into an ace in his first three years in the league.  Dude's put up two consecutive seasons of over 4 fWAR and he's still only 23.  Kershaw's going to be good for a very long time. 

Saturday: Josh Collmenter (1-0, 1.29) vs. Chad Billingsley (2-2, 3.91)

Insightful Commentary: The highly-anticipated debut of the Tomahawk in the rotation!  While people who know way more about the D-Backs' farm system than I do seem to think that Collmenter's future lies in the bullpen, I like this move.  It gives the Diamondbacks a chance to see what they have in a very interesting young arm in a season where they probably won't be competing.  If it works, wonderful.  If not, he has looked plenty effective in the bullpen.  In the short term, I think he'll have an edge over hitters in his first couple of starts, due to his funky delivery.  And here's hoping that he pitches well enough that he stays in the rotation even once Duke returns, thus ridding us once and for all of Armando Galarraga

As for Chad Billingsley, he's one of the most boring above-average starters I've ever seen.  He isn't great at any one particular thing, just slightly better than average at pretty much everything: walk rate, K rate, HR/9, you name it.  If someone were to build a generic number two starter from scratch, it would come out looking quite a bit like Chad Billingsley.

Sunday: Ian Kennedy (3-1, 3.23) vs. Ted Lilly (3-3, 4.67)

Insightful Commentary: Kennedy continued his sterling 2011 campaign in San Francisco, tossing eight scoreless innings in a dazzling but ultimately futile outing on Tuesday.  I'm running out of superlatives to describe Ian this season, so I'll just say this: on Tuesday we saw two pitchers at their very best, and we found out that Ian Kennedy's best is maybe, maybe a half-step below Tim Lincecum's best.  That's very high praise. 

Now, imagine that the same factory that pumps out number two starters who look like Chad Billingsley also does crafty left-handers.  You place an order, wait 5 to 7 business days, and poof!, out comes Ted Lilly.  Lilly never threw hard, and certainly doesn't at age 35, but he has a healthy K% for his career, due almost entirely to deception.  Apparently, the Dodger's rotation is composed entirely of stereotypes. 

Final Verdict: At the beginning of the week, I predicted the Diamondbacks would win in San Francisco before disappointing in LA.  Evidently, they couldn't be bothered to build up our hopes before dashing them again, as they skipped straight to the "disappointment" phase by getting swept in San Francisco.  I don't know whether this was just an unfortunate series, or the beginning of the collapse we've all been half-expecting since the beginning of April.  However, I'll err on the side of optimism and say Diamondbacks two games to one.

There is only a small handful of thoughtful, intelligent Dodger fans in the world, and I've found that most of them hang out on True Blue LA.


(All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs)