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Series Preview #17: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

53 days and 46 games ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks traveled to Coors Field to take on Colorado Rockies in the first series of the 2011 season. And just going by results, it's astonishing how little has actually changed for these two teams in the past two months. Both teams will begin this series with records that are as close to .500 as possible (the Rockies are 23-22, due to an odd number of games played). So really, it's back to the beginning for both teams, as they're separated from one another by a mere half game.

However, the paths these two teams have taken to return to mediocrity are incredibly different. Going into the season, many people assumed that 0-0 would be the only time all season that the D-Backs would sniff .500, and indeed it looked like that would be the case for much of the season. After a five-game losing streak, the Diamondbacks' record stood at 15-22 and it looked to be another long summer in Phoenix. Since then, the team has responded by winning 8 of 9, including six straight, and has improbably bumped their record back to even (23-23). Is it real? Is it sustainable? Hell if I know, but it's the most fun I've had watching D-Backs baseball since 2008, so I'm not going to split hairs over it.

Meanwhile, Colorado was the trendy pick to win the NL West and they looked the part early on, going 17-8 in April. However, May has not been kind to the Rockies as they've gone 6-14 so far, falling back to the pack and surrendering their division lead to the Giants. The D-Backs have already contributed to this slide, as they took two of three games from the Rockies in early May, with both wins coming by means of late-inning heroics. Heading into this series, the Rockies have lost three in a row, and have an inconsistent offense and an "ace" pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez with an ERA of 5.44.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):

Arizona (23-23) Colorado (23-22) Edge

Hitting (wRC+): 95 86 Arizona

Pitching (FIP): 4.04 4.01 Colorado

Fielding* (UZR): 14.4 6.3 Arizona

Like pretty much everyone else in this division, the Rockies have trouble scoring runs. I mean, not trouble by normal standards, since they play at Coors Field and all, but certainly trouble by Rockies standards. They're 10th in Runs Scored, but their offense rates somewhat worse in most advanced metrics, as their wRC+, which adjusts for park effects, puts them in 24th in MLB. Their pitching obviously suffers from the park effects of Coors Field, but it is somewhat telling that the Rockies pitching staff had an FIP of 3.85 the last time we faced them, so they've fallen somewhat on hard times since early May.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

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

Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF
Jonathan Herrera, 2B
Todd Helton, 1B
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Seth Smith, LF
Carlos Gonzalez, RF
Jose Lopez, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C

Carlos Gonzalez has been a disappointment this season for the Rockies, with an OPS+ of only 92 after posting 143 last year. However, he's been better of late, as his .950 OPS in May indicates. Conversely however, Troy Tulowitzki has struggled to a very un-Tuloesque .656 in May. While a month of data doesn't necessarily indicate a larger problem, the Rockies need both Tulo and Gonzalez producing to the best of their abilities to make a run at the division, and that isn't the case right now.

Todd Helton is about 82 years old, and he's been battling an injury lately, which just makes his 2011 season that much more impressive. So far this season, Helton has hit .313/.364/.531, and his .895 OPS ranks fourth in the NL among first basemen. Seth Smith has put together a nice season as well, with an OPS+ of 128. The Rockies have spent what feels like forever waiting for Chris Iannetta to stop tantalizing them with his talent and just produce already. He's probably never going to be a star, but a 109 OPS+ for a catcher is not too shabby. On the other hand, the team has to cope with steady stream of offensive suckage from Jose Lopez, whose sole virtue is being slightly better than Ian Stewart, causing him to continue to get at-bats despite an OPS of .524.

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday Part 1: Joe Saunders (0-5, 5.02) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (5-2, 3.34)

Insightful Commentary: Joe Saunders might just be the most important player for the Diamondbacks going forward. Out of the Cerberus of Suck that Saunders, Enright and Galarraga comprised, only Saunders remains. Not coincidentally, the rotation has pitched better recently, but its continued success will rely on Joe Saunders pitching like a competent number 3 starter. While he's gotten better results in his past two starts, he had twice as many walks as strikeouts in those games, so I remain skeptical.

Jorge De La Rosa is coming off of a start where he shut down the Giants to the tune of 8 innings, 1 ER. After all but abandoning his cutter last year, he has reincorporated it this season, throwing it 11.3% of the time. It must be working, since his ERA and FIP are both at career lows this season.

Tuesday Part 2: Josh Collmenter (3-0, 0.69) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (5-2, 2.70)

Insightful Commentary: I spelled "Jhoulys Chacin" right on the first try while writing this, which is probably my proudest accomplishment to date as a blogger. Last time the D-Backs faced Chacin, he held them to only 3 hits and 2 runs over 7 innings. This was more or less par for the course for Chacin this season, as an ERA of 2.70 over nine starts with Coors Field as your home ballpark is commendable regardless of peripherals. But with that in mind, his BABIP is only .236 this season, so he's due for some regression.

I don't have any idea what to expect from Josh Collmenter. No one does. It's easy to write off his first two games as a fluke, and yes, they were probably a little bit fluky, but I don't have a sense of just how hard his delivery is to pick up for opposing hitters. And if they really are struggling to pick up the baseball, then who knows how long he can keep this up. His IFFB% shows that he's causing 25.9% of hitters who put the ball in play to pop the ball up, which basically means that he's turning every batter he faces into 2009 Chris Young. He's going to regress, because how can he not with an ERA of 0.69? But when and to what extent, I really don't know. If anyone has experience with hatchet-throwing right-handers who have two pitches and a fastball that peaks at 89, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday: Ian Kennedy (5-1, 3.24) vs. Jason Hammel (3-3, 3.59)

Insightful Commentary: Ian Kennedy gave up two home runs in his last outing against the Twins after giving up only three in his first nine starts. In a way, that's a good thing, since we all knew his HR/FB was unsustainable, and seeing him have a strong start in spite of the homers was encouraging. While his final line from the game doesn't look spectacular, he was a couple of questionable ball/strike calls and a subsequent Aaron Heilman implosion from going eight innings with two ERs. Ian Kennedy spoils us.

Jason Hammel is having a strange season. His walks are up, and his K/9 has dropped from 7.14 to 5.15. Yet, he has responded by seeing his ERA drop by over a run, from 4.81 to 3.59. How, you ask? Well, he's getting lucky in pretty much every way a pitcher can get lucky, with a BABIP and a HR/FB that are both well below his career averages, and a LOB% that's noticeably higher than it has been throughout his career.

Thursday: Micah Owings (0-0, 5.06) vs. Clayton Mortensen (1-1, 2.17)

Insightful Commentary: The long-awaited battle of which fill-in fifth starter is superior. Owings pitched fairly well against the Twins up until the sixth inning, where he gave up two runs before being yanked. If he can go five innings, with two runs again in Denver, I'll be content. Clayton Mortensen is filling in for Esmil Rogers, who is nursing a strained right lat. Mortensen is a right-hander who has bounced around the minors since 2007 before getting a chance in the Rockies bullpen. He's made three starts now, and has been generally workmanlike, going 18.2 innings as a starter and giving up 7 runs.

Final Verdict: This feels like a statement series. It's not, because it's May and both teams involved are fighting to stay above .500, but it feels like one, since it's the closest the D-Backs have come to making any statement other than "we suck" since 2008. The Rockies are reeling right now, and the D-Backs are coming off their best stretch of games in three years, so it's mighty tempting to say that Arizona should roll in here and take this series. But they're still on the road against a team that many people picked to win the division, so it's not going to be easy. In the end, I predict that nothing will change in the standings, as the Diamondbacks and Rockies split the next four games.

Head over to our good friends at Purple Row to see what they think.


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

Current Series

4 game series vs Rockies @ Coors Field

Arizona Diamondbacks
@ Colorado Rockies

Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 3:10 PM EDT
Coors Field

Joe Saunders vs Jorge De La Rosa

Partly cloudy,rain. Winds blowing in from left field at 10-15 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 60.

Complete Coverage >

Tue 05/24 8:40 PM EDT
Wed 05/25 8:40 PM EDT
Thu 05/26 8:40 PM EDT