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Series Preview #12: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

At least Hell has the decency to be warm at least some of the time...
At least Hell has the decency to be warm at least some of the time...

While I was perusing the Giants' blog McCovey Chronicles in preparation for the upcoming series, I couldn't help but notice that a certain writer over there has an irrational dislike for Coors Field.  And that's okay.  I mean, I'm certainly not a big fan of any place where the people all cheer for Tulo and Brad Hawpe can put up an OPS of 1.017 over the course of a season without anyone batting an eye.  But I bring this up because Grant feels exactly the same way about Coors Field that I feel about AT&T Park, home of the Giants.

Not much has stayed constant for the D-Backs over the past decade, or even the past half-decade, but one thing that I can rely on as a Diamondback fan is a sense of existential dread that creeps into my subconscious like a Bay-Area fog whenever the Diamondbacks travel to PacBell Park SBC Park AT&T Park.  This dread is a Pavlovian response conditioned by years of watching Diamondback batters hit weak flyballs into the perpetually freezing San Francisco "summer" air, while guys like Randy Winn develop the amazing ability to hit RBI singles to exactly where Diamondback infielders aren't standing, en route to an inevitable 4-2 Giant win. 

This isn't just paranoia either, I have stats to back it up.  Since 2006, when the Diamondbacks as currently constructed began to take shape, the team has gone 15-30 in AT&T Park.  This witchcraft happens regardless of how good either team is that season too.  Remember 2007, where the D-Backs won 90 games while the Giants were so mediocre and forgettable that not even Armando Benitez's mother remembers them?  Well, the Giants won the season series at AT&T that year 6 games to 3.  Yup, no place slows the D-Backs' roll quite like AT&T Park, which makes this upcoming series about as exciting as a trip to the dentist.

As much as I love ranting about AT&T Park, I suppose I should probably talk a little about the team that plays there too.  Since we last saw the San Francisco Giants, they've gone 10-9.  The defending world champions have been hovering around .500 all season, but they swept the division-leading Rockies in their previous series, and currently sit just a game out of first, at 18-16.  Despite injuries, adversity and Miguel Tejada, they've kept themselves in a pretty good position to make a run in the NL West. 


What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):

                              Arizona (15-18)                                San Francisco (18-16)                                   Edge

Hitting (wRC+):    97                                                          80                                                          Arizona

Pitching (FIP):     4.31                                                      3.18                                                   San Francisco

Fielding* (UZR):   3.4                                                       -9.7                                                         Arizona

Hilariously, the Giants' offense is actually slightly worse (by wRC+ at least) than the Padres' offense was going into the previous series.  The Giants have scored a few more runs than their counterparts to the south, but they're still ranked 27th in the league in Runs Scored with 117.  Luckily for Giants fans, their pitching has been fantastic, as they rank 3rd in baseball in FIP.  While Lincecum and the rest of the starters have done their part, the pitchers in the bullpen have been the real rockstars, as their 2.87 FIP puts them behind only the Braves' relief corps. 

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

San Francisco Giants

Aaron Rowand, CF
Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Mike Fontenot, SS
Buster Posey, C
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Pat Burrell, LF
Nate Schierholtz, RF
Miguel Tejada, 3B

I could go on and on about all of the injuries that the Giants have suffered so far this season, but the point is just as easily made by pointing out that utility infielder Mike Fontenot is currently hitting third in the lineup while 3B Pablo Sandoval is on the DL.  It's worked perfectly well so far, as he is hitting .264/.365/.547 this season and drove in a game winning run on Saturday from the 3 hole.  But it's just unsettling to see a backup shortstop with a career OPS+ of 94 as the featured hitter in the lineup and it speaks to the problems the Giants have had on offense this season.  Aaron Rowand, filling in for the injured Andres Torres, had a strong beginning of the season, but regression is beginning to catch up to him, as his OPS+ has dropped below 100 (96). 

Other than Fontenot, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz, the rest of the Giants' lineup has been rather disappointing this season.  Highly-touted catcher Buster Posey has struggled thus far in his sophomore campaign, with an OPS of just .701 in 125 Plate Appearances.  Aubrey Huff, who played a crucial role in 2010 drive to the World Series, has slumped to an OPS+ of 64 in 2011, as he is slugging only .339.  If someone had told Miguel Tejada in, say, 2005 that he would be batting behind the likes of Nate Schierholtz in six years, he would have choked on his "supplements."  Nevertheless, that's where he finds himself in 2011, and it is difficult to say that he hasn't earned it with an OPS of .505 in his first year with the Giants.

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday: Ian Kennedy (3-1, 3.80) vs. Tim Lincecum (3-3, 2.47)

Insightful Commentary: One of the main reasons I was skeptical about the D-Backs' rotation going into the season was that Ian Kennedy would be thrust into the "ace" role.  While his numbers were perfectly good last year, for Kennedy to convincingly play the role of an ace pitcher, his numbers would have to take another substantial step forward when there was reason to believe that they were more likely to regress somewhat.  However, his walk rate has dropped, his GB% has risen, and most importantly, his home run rate has dropped.  Could it all end tomorrow? Sure, but through the first fifth of the season, Kennedy has been a treat to watch and to root for. 

Tim Lincecum is still Tim Lincecum, which is a problem for Diamondback hitters.  After a year where his K/9 dropped below 10 for the first time in his career (a still-elite 9.79), Lincecum has fixed whatever "ailed" him.  Through his first 7 starts, his K/9 is 10.84, better than his career average.  He has been using his slider, previously his third or fourth best pitch, significantly more this season, and this new weapon may account for the uptick in his strikeouts.

Wednesday: Armando Galarraga (3-2, 5.29) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (2-2, 3.55)

Insightful Commentary: My patience with the Armando Galarraga Experiment is officially at an end.  His obvious problem this season has been the home runs, which I've been patient with since it's all but impossible to sustain a HR/FB rate of 25.6%.  But against a terrible lineup, in a park where he couldn't give up multiple home runs if he'd been trying, he found a way to walk 6 Padres, bringing his BB/9 to an appalling 4.73.  He currently has an fWAR of -0.7, theoretically 0.7 wins less than someone like Wade Miley would have put up for a fraction of the cost.  I'll give him until Zach Duke comes back to figure it out, and not a second longer before I start screaming for his job. 

On the surface, Jonathan Sanchez looks like he has fallen back to earth a bit after putting up an ERA of 3.07 last year.  But both his FIP and xFIP have fallen slightly since last year.  His walk rate has always been alarmingly high, but this year's total of 6.16 goes a bit beyond that.  Expect a lot of free passes in this game.

Thursday: Daniel Hudson (3-4, 4.47) vs. Matt Cain (2-2, 3.38)

Insightful Commentary: You can make a pretty good argument for Matt Cain as one of the top 10 or 15 starters in Major League Baseball right now.  He hasn't had an FIP above 4 or put a season of less than 3.5 fWAR since his rookie year (2005).  Now what if I told you that Daniel Hudson had slightly better peripherals, both at their respective ages and today, pretty much across the board?  Well, it's true.  We talk a lot about how good Daniel Hudson is on this blog, but it takes something like this to really drive the message home.  Daniel Hudson is amazing.  And from a unbiased baseball fan standpoint, I'm really looking forward to this game.

Final Verdict:  I don't really have any reason for thinking this, given the Diamondbacks track record on the road against the Giants over the past seasons and the pitching matchups for this series, but I say the D-Backs surprise us here.  The Giants have had some significant problems with injuries and general inconsistency early this season, and I say they're due for a letdown here.  So I'll say Diamondbacks 2 games to 1.

If you feel like fraternizing with the enemy, McCovey Chronicles is always a good place to stop by, provided you behave yourself. 


Current Series

3 game series vs Giants @ AT&T Park

Arizona Diamondbacks
@ San Francisco Giants

Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 10:15 PM EDT
AT&T Park

Ian Kennedy vs Tim Lincecum

Partly cloudy. Winds blowing out to right field at 5-15 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 60.

Complete Coverage >

Wed 05/11 10:15 PM EDT
Thu 05/12 3:45 PM EDT


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