Think back to May 2008 for a minute.
Everything started off so well for the first six weeks of the 2008 season. The team won 90 games the season prior, and they looked to be even better in 2008 with two aces instead of one and a bunch of young bats that were just starting to approach their prime. The offense was clicking, Webb and Haren were doing ace-y things, and the team was comfortably ahead in their division. By May 18, 2008, the Diamondbacks were 5.5 games ahead in the NL West with a record of 28-16.
And then they went to Miami.
There were three games at what was then known as Dolphin Stadium. Webb, Haren and Micah Owings (people forget that he began that season 5-1) started the games, and all three lost in succession. In what would become a season-long trend, the offense failed them, scoring three runs total in the three games played, and the three aces pitched well but gave up a few poorly-timed hits that allowed for the Marlins sweep.
Since that fateful series, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a record of 222-282, a winning percentage of .440. The dynasty of young position players that D-Back fans were promised never occurred, the team's ace pitcher developed arm problems from which he has never recovered, they missed the playoffs in 2008 and has been in last place ever since.
I've never been to Miami, and the only things I know about the city I learned from watching Scarface and one season of Dexter. That is to say: I don't know very much. So while I'm not saying the team was cursed when the plane touched down in the Sunshine State, I'm just saying I don't know for a fact that it didn't happen. It's Miami, who really knows?
What I do know is that the Marlins have been in a free-fall since dropping the series to the D-Backs at Chase. They lost the rubber match of that series, and all seven games they've played since. Before the last series against Arizona, the Marlins led the Wild Card race, but now they find themselves in third place in their division, and only tenuously over .500 at 31-30 following sweeps by the Braves and Brewers. With the continued absence of ace pitcher Josh Johnson and all-star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, things are not quite as sunny with the Marlins as they appeared just ten days ago.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs)
Arizona (34-29) Florida (31-30) Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 98 92 Arizona
Pitching (FIP): 4.01 3.62 Florida
Fielding (UZR): 14.4 5.9 Arizona
Yeah, so the Marlins' offense, which was comfortably above-average in most categories ten days ago, is now in the lower half of Major League Baseball by wRC+. This makes sense, given that they've only scored 18 runs in the past 7 games (2.57 runs per game, if you're scoring at home). To make matters worse, the pitching staff has compensated by letting their FIP rise from 3.41 to 3.62 since the last time I did one of these. And here I was hoping that nothing would have changed with the Marlins over the past week and a half, so that I could just cut and paste the graph from the last series preview without anyone noticing. Stupid Marlins...
Ryan Roberts, 3B
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Chris Young, CF
Miguel Montero, C
Juan Miranda, 1B
Gerardo Parra, LF
Chris Coghlan, CF
Omar Infante, 2B
Logan Morrison, LF
Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Greg Dobbs, 3B
Mike Stanton, RF
Emilio Bonifacio, SS
John Buck, C
Yeah, not much has changed here. Hanley Ramirez is still out of the lineup, replaced by former Diamondback Emilio Bonifacio. This is almost certainly a good thing for the D-Backs, as anyone who was watched Emilio Bonifacio play baseball can attest. His OBP of .320 isn't horrid, but he continues to be a one-trick pony with his speed and little else. However, this means that Bonifacio has one more trick than fellow utility infielder Melvin Mora, so he does have that going for him.
Not too much really changes during a ten-game stretch in June, even a ten-game stretch that sees a team hit .227/.309/.356. Though Logan Morrison has seen his OPS drop about 100 points in that time, he's still comfortably above-average on the season. Stanton, Dobbs, and Sanchez are still carrying the offense, Omar Infante is still watching watching other players carry the offense and pretending to be helpful by yelling "Just set it down there, guys. No, no, not there, THERE!" Nothing new to see here.
Friday: Joe Saunders (3-5, 4.32) vs. Anibal Sanchez (5-1, 2.97)
Insightful Commentary: Saunders had his best game of the season last time out, going seven scoreless innings against the Nationals. It feels like I've been talking about how bad his peripherals have been all season, so it gives me great pleasure to say that over the past three games Saunders has struck out 16 batters and only walked 5. I don't know if he can keep this up, but it's been great to see improvement from him recently.
This feels almost like a waste of space: you guys all remember who Anibal Sanchez is, thanks to his performance in the last series. He was masterful against the D-Backs at Chase, going eight innings and allowing two runs while striking out eight D-Backs. It isn't the best line we've seen from an opposing pitcher this season, but it may just be the best performance, as he was in full command of his intimidating repertoire, including one of the most potent change-ups I've ever seen. However, he gave up five runs in his last start against the Brewers, so perhaps there's a reason for some cautious optimism.
Saturday: Ian Kennedy (6-2, 3.01) vs. Javier Vazquez (3-5, 6.50)
Insightful Commentary: Ian's calling-card is location, but he struggled with it in his last start against the Nationals. Despite clearly not having his best stuff however, he got stronger as the game went on and gave the team seven innings of one-run ball. One of Kennedy's few remaining weaknesses is his inability to excel when one or more pitches are flat and he can't locate like he usually can, and it was encouraging to see him succeed in spite of these setbacks.
Javier Vazquez is who he is: an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation pitcher who is nearing the end of his career. With that in mind, this team has been shut down by far less imposing pitchers this season, so you never know.
Sunday: Daniel Hudson (6-5, 3.98) vs. Brad Hand (1-0, 1.50)
Insightful Commentary: Hudson was the victim of some bad luck in his last start, since only one of his three runs was earned. He did have more wonderful peripherals, as he struck out seven Pirates and only walked one. Stuck with the unenviable task of trying to fill in for Josh Johnson, Brad Hand pitched well in his debut, going six innings and allowing only one run a single hit.
Monday: Zach Duke (1-1, 2.37) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-1, 3.86)
Insightful Commentary: In his last start, Duke went seven innings and gave up one run, which is good. But he gave up nine hits in the process, which is bad. But most of the hits were singles, and a result of Duke being cursed by the God of Batted Balls, which is kinda okay, I guess. So overall, the start was neither encouraging nor discouraging. It was just couraging, which isn't a word at all.
Ricky Nolasco has essentially been the same pitcher since 2008, a solid front-line starter whose only real bugaboo is the occasional home run. At least, he's been the same pitcher in regards to peripherals, although his ERA has jumped from 3.53 in 2008 to over 5 in 2009.
Final Verdict: Obviously, nothing that happened in a three-game series in 2008 had any bearing on the disaster that was the next two and a half seasons. But from a fan's perspective, it feels like a turning point. It was a slap in the face, the sudden realization that maybe Chris Young, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew might not ever become stars, that the offense might be deeply flawed, that the pitching might not be able to carry the team by itself. Nothing changed that day, except for the confidence of one 17-year-old Diamondback fan, and probably the confidence of a few others on here.
Recently, the Diamondbacks have played their best prolonged stretch of baseball since early 2008. Since May 13, the Diamondbacks are 19-7, which is in the same stratosphere as the 20-8 record that the team began 2008 with. So what will it be? Will the team succumb again to the humid Florida air and the mojo of thousands of empty orange seats? Or will they make a statement that this team is different from promising D-Backs teams of the past by beating a talented but struggling Marlins team on their own turf?
Hell if I know. I'm gonna push.
Diamondbacks and Marlins each win two games.
Head over to Fish Stripes if you want to hang out with Marlins fans. It worked out pretty well for VEB.
All batting data and random 2008 factoids courtesy of Baseball-Reference, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.
4 game series vs Marlins @ Sun Life Stadium
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 7:10 PM EDT
Joe Saunders vs Anibal Sanchez
Partly cloudy,rain. Winds blowing in from center field at 10-15 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 80.
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