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Series Preview #46: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

Even though seemingly everyone has been taken by surprise by the Rockies' disastrous season, part of me wonders if maybe we should have seen this coming. The 2010 Rockies won 83 games and finished in third place in a very winnable division, and the only significant change they made going into 2011 was the addition of Jose Lopez. Jose Lopez has a career OPS+ of 84. Why everyone (including myself) expected them to suddenly take a step forward is a bit beyond me, in retrospect.

What's more, there were legitimate reasons to expect some regression from a lot of the major performers in 2010. Ubaldo Jimenez was awesome last year, but he had an absurdly low HR/FB rate, and that can come back to haunt you at Coors Field. No one in their right mind should have expected Carlos Gonzalez to maintain his 2010 BABIP of .384, and nobody other than Troy Tulowitzki had an OPS+ above 100 last year. Sure, the rotation has gotten snake-bit by injuries, but the two starters who had their seasons ended were Jorge de la Rosa, who had a 4.55 ERA last year, and Juan Nicasio, who wasn't even supposed to be in the rotation this year.

I'm certainly not claiming that I saw this coming for the Rockies, but maybe we all should have.

Since we last played the Rockies, umm, not too much has changed. They won a series in San Diego to keep pace in the division, staying 14 games behind the Diamondbacks. They're 66-74, and at this point, even winning 23 out of 24 might not be enough to save the Rockies' season.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Hitting (wRC+): 94 94
Pitching (FIP-):
99 100
Fielding (UZR):
52.9 -12.7

With the notable exception of fielding, the Rockies and Diamondbacks look evenly matched on paper, considering the disparity in their records. Due to the Coors effect, the Rockies have actually scored more runs this year than the Diamondbacks, and they continue to take walks at a very impressive rate. Colorado's pitching has underperformed its FIP somewhat, as they have a collective ERA of 4.37 to go with an FIP of 4.19. I'd imagine that this has more to do with balls leaving Coors field at a higher rate than they do at lower-elevation parks. Clearly, Rockies' attendants need to be more careful with those non-humidor balls they save for the offense.*

*Note to visiting Rockie fans: this was a joke.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Ryan Roberts, 3B
2. Gerardo Parra, LF
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Chris Young, CF
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
7. Aaron Hill, 2B
8. John McDonald, SS

Colorado Rockies

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Todd Helton, 1B
6. Seth Smith, LF
7. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C

Dexter Fowler has no power and has never posted an OPS+ over...

Wait a minute.

I just did this six games ago. You can read up on the Rockies' lineup here, but as a special treat, I thought I'd take a moment to look at the D-Backs' lineup in the space that I would normally examine the opponent. We'll see how it goes.

All of these Cinderella teams have a player or two who posts a career season out of nowhere, and Ryan Roberts has done just that for the Diamondbacks. His 116 OPS+ is third among consistent starters, and his .355 OBP makes him a solid choice in the leadoff spot. Gerardo Parra, after two seasons of being an offensive void, may have finally figured things out. He's learned to take a walk, as indicated by his .358 OBP, and hit for power. In doing so, he has become much more than just an empty average.

Justin Upton has absolutely rained fire this year, as his OPS of .911 is 11th in the National League. After whispers that he might end up with the same unfulfilled promise as his brother B.J, he has established himself as a true star. Miguel Montero isn't well-known outside of Arizona, but he's been a revelation in his first year as starting catcher, posting a Slugging Percentage of .458, second-highest among consistent starters as a catcher. Surely Kirk Gibson wouldn't even THINK of batting his catcher eighth, right?

Paul Goldschimdt has achieved folk-hero status among Arizona fans, both for his insane minor-league production before his promotion, and for his tape-measure home runs after it. He has an OPS+ of 122 in 98 PAs, indicating that he hasn't been intimidated by the majors at all. Aaron Hill has made quite an impact since coming over from the Blue Jays, putting up an OPS of 1.024 in 43 Plate Appearances. I doubt it will last, but I'm sure Diamondback fans are enjoying it.

See? That wasn't biased at all...

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Wade Miley (2-1, 3.94) vs. Esmil Rogers (6-4, 5.94)

Insightful Commentary: In an exciting development, Wade Miley took my advice and started walking fewer batters, allowing only one walk against the Rockies his last time out. But because Miley appears to be allergic to making things easy on himself, he felt the need to allow nine hits in just six innings. I didn't see that game, so someone else will have to be the judge of whether he was getting BABIP'd or Rockie hitters were seeing the ball particularly well off of him. Either way, I'm quite nervous about Miley facing the same team again in a crazy run-scoring environment like Coors Field.

According to the write up, Esmil Rogers has an ERA of 18 in the first inning of games this year. In innings 2-9, he has an ERA of 3.68, which would make him a well above-average starter, if not for the first three outs of the game. Maybe the Rockies should try some sort of reverse relief scenario where Huston Street "saves" the game in the first inning, and lets Rogers pitch the rest of the way.

Tuesday: Josh Collmenter (9-8, 3.18) vs. Jason Hammel (7-13, 5.15)

Insightful Commentary: So here's an interesting (and completely hypothetical) question: who starts game three of a potential NLDS series for the Diamondbacks, Josh Collmenter or Joe Saunders? With Saunders, you get a more reliable and battle-tested pitcher who is more likely to pitch deeper into the game. But Collmenter gives has had better success this year, both in regards to ERA and peripherals, and probably has higher upside in a given game. At the same time, Collmenter is likely more valuable coming out of the 'pen than Saunders. It's an interesting thing to keep in mind over these next couple of weeks.

/knocks on wood.

Jason Hammel has quietly put together an absolutely terrible season. His K/9 has just plummeted this year, from 7.14 last year to 4.73 in 2011. At the same time, he's giving up a walk and a half more per nine innings, which is a good way to ruin your ERA. That 5.15 number is supported by a 5.03 FIP, indicating that he hasn't been the victim of bad luck. It doesn't look like he's suffered a drop in velocity this year, so I'd be interested to hear if there's any visible difference in his delievery or mechanics from any lurking Rockies fans who have seen him first-hand this year.

Wednesday: Joe Saunders (9-12, 3.91) vs. Kevin Millwood (2-1, 3.34)

Insightful Commentary: Joe Saunders wasn't Matt Cain in his last start, and that proved his undoing as he gave up four runs in 5.1 innings of work against the Giants. He struggled with walks, yielding four to a team that walks less than almost any lineup in the majors. He's allowed four or more runs in four of his last five starts, and there may be more regression to come for Saunders.

Kevin Millwood joins Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff as players who I didn't know were Rockies until this week. You'd think I'd keep a closer eye on our division opponents. Sheesh. Kevin Millwood is essentially Rodrigoing (Like Rodrigo Lopez did for us in 2010. It's a thing, I promise) for the Rockies, as he's just here to eat innings and fill out the back of the rotation for the rest of the season.

Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks are twenty games above .500 in September. Swish that around in your mouth for a little while. This team has gotten some lucky breaks this year, there's no denying that, but they've gotten here by playing good baseball. They've earned the benefit of the doubt, so I'm going to give it to them until they prove they don't deserve it. Diamondbacks two games to one.

Go hang out at Purple Row for the Rockies' perspective on things.

All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise mentioned, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.