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Series Preview #36: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates

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[Zavada's Moustache is going off-grid for a couple of weeks without reliable Internet access - doesn't sound much like my idea of a holiday, but there you go.... Anyway, in his absence, the previews will be written by a few guest previewers, so there may be some changes in tone or format!]

Having given away yet another game to end the series against Philly, it just puts that much more pressure on the boys to win what will likely be a tough upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. There are still plenty of games left but with two teams ahead of us the margin for error is getting smaller and smaller. The Dbacks are now 4 games back of the 1st place Giants and 3.5 behind the 2nd place Dodgers.

It’s still been a good road trip so far having swept the Dodgers and taking game one from the Phillies to be at 4-2. But now we have four games with Pittsburgh which currently trails Cincinnati by 4.5 games in NL Central but has a decent grip on the one of the two wild card spots with a 2.5 game lead over St. Louis. Pittsburgh will be plenty motivated to win this series and not slide backwards as they have so often before in the last 10+ years. This is a huge series for both teams. Full analysis after the jump.

Pittsburgh actually has a lower run differential than the Diamondbacks in spite of a 6.5 game lead over them for the wild card. On paper the Diamondbacks match up well, but then that can be said about just about everyone in the National League because the Dbacks are not realizing the wins relative to their independent statistical performance. Yesterday’s game against Philadelphia was a perfect example of that.

What the Stats Say (According to Fan Graphs)

Arizona Pittsburgh Advantage
Pitching (FIP-) 93 101 Arizona
Hitting (wRC+) 97 88 Arizona
Fielding (UZR) 20 14.7 Arizona

There’s nothing particularly scary about the Pittsburgh lineup outside of MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. They recently called up top prospect Starling Marte and traded for 1B Gaby Sanchez, but those aren’t moves that add much fright to opposing pitchers. The more one looks at their team the more one wonders how they’ve won so many games. I guess it’s a lot like last year for the Dbacks when everything just comes together and you find yourself winning more than your share of 1-run games. The Pirates are 23-17 in 1-run games and the Dbacks are 8-15. That explains a lot right there.

Expected Starting Lineups
Against RHP (Games 2 and 3) Against LHP (Games 1 and 4)
Diamondbacks Diamondbacks
Games 2 and 3 Games 1 and 4
Stephen Drew - SS Chris Young - CF
Aaron Hill - 2B Aaron Hill - 2B
Jason Kubel - LF Jason Kubel - LF
Paul Goldschmidt - 1B Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Justin Upton - RF Justin Upton - RF
Miguel Montero - C Miguel Montero - C
Chris Johnson - 3B Chris Johnson - 3B
Gerardo Parra - CF Stephen Drew - SS

Pirates Pirates
Game 3 Games 1, 2 and 4
Alex Presley - LF Starling Marte - RF
Neil Walker - 2B Neil Walker - 2B
Andrew McCutchen - CF Andrew McCutchen - CF
Garrett Jones - 1B Gaby Sanchez - 1B
Travis Snider - RF Pedro Alvarez - 3B
Michael McKenry - C Michael McKenry - C
Pedro Alvarez - 3B John Harrison - LF
Clint Barmes - SS Clint Barmes - SS
  • The Pirates have some holes in their lineup and a lot of low OBP guys. But what they do have is a bunch of guys who can beat you with the long ball. Cutch has 23 homers, Pedro Alvarez has 21, Garrett Jones has 15, Neil Walker has 11.
  • Starling Marte has been leading off some but he might not be in that spot this week as he’s not getting on base at all.
  • Neil Walker flops back and forth between 2nd and 5th or 6th. He’s a competent hitter in the Aaron Hill mode.
  • Sanchez was acquired to try and give some protection to McCutchen but he’s having a horrible season. Maybe the change of scenery will do him good. He’s 5 for 19 with 1 HR and 1 RBI since moving into the cleanup spot.
  • McKenry has been getting more of the playing time over Rod Barajas of late because Marajas has not been hitting much of late.
  • Josh Harrison has also been stealing some playing time from Clint Barmes at SS.
  • Manager Clint Hurdle has done a great job and is doing a lot of mixing and matching with the lineup to try and find some hot bats.

Pitching Matchups

LHP Wade Miley (12-6, 2.98) vs. Erik Bedard (5-12, 4.83)
This is not a scary matchup and should be prime fodder for Goldy, Upton, Hill, Young and Johnson to do some damage. Bedard is not having a very good year and got hammered in his last start against the Cubs. He’s always capable of throwing a gem here and there but the advantage in this matchup is all Arizona. The Dbacks have been pretty good against left-handers of late, notwithstanding their early-season struggles against soft-tossing lefties. Advantage – Arizona.

LHP Patrick Corbin (3-4, 3.60) vs. RHP Jeff Karstens (4-2, 3.70 ERA)

Karstens missed a couple of months earlier this season with a sore right shoulder but had pitched pretty well since coming back in late June. He kind of alternates between good games and less than good games. His last game was a good one against the Cubs so let’s hope this one is a less than good game. His good games have been against weak opponents (Houston, Miami and Chicago) while his not so good ones are against better teams (Phillies, Dodgers, Colorado). He pitched an inning of relief back in April and the Dbacks got him for 3 hits and 2 runs. He goes against Corbin who was tremendous in his first start against the Dodgers since being inserted back into the rotation. The Pirates unfamiliarity with Corbin should work to his advantage, but predicting how a rookie pitcher will perform is always a dicey proposition. Advantage – Even.

RHP Ian Kennedy (10-8, 4.15) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (8-6, 4.49)

Corriea lost his regular starting spot when the Bucs acquired Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros. But he’s scheduled to start on Wednesday. We’ll see if that holds up. He asked the team for a trade a week ago when notified of his demotion but he’s still with the team. Corriea has been mediocre at best and rarely goes more than 5 or 6 innings and always allows some runs. What he’s been good at is keeping the damage done to a tolerable minimum and hope the offense can come up with enough. He does put a lot of pressure on the bullpen but he tends to keep his team in games. Ian Kennedy’s been a lot like that this year but he’s still a step above Correia. Nothing scary about this matchup. Advantage – Arizona.

LHP Joe Saunders (5-8, 3.57) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (7-10, 3.82)
Pittsburgh bolstered their marginal starting rotation with the acquisition of the steady Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez doesn’t blow anyone away with electric stuff but he is a professional pitcher that knows how to get big-league hitters out. He hasn’t been terribly effective of late and in his first two starts for Pittsburgh has just been "okay," allowing 3 runs in each of those starts. He goes up against Joe Saunders who has been pretty steady all year. He’s a lot like Rodriguez in that he doesn’t blow hitters away but he manages to get the job done. This game is an early start (1:00pm Arizona time) to allow the Dbacks travel time. The edge in this game might go to who needs it the most based on how the previous 3 games went. Advantage – Even.

Final Verdict
On paper I really like the match-up. But then there’s been plenty of other series where I like the matchup. The pitching matchups all look good and these guys aren’t Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Every single game is winnable. The concern is the Pirates have their mojo going and find ways to win when they’re clearly over-matched. They could easily do that to us here as it’s not like all our starters are unhittable or anything. It’s a critical series where 2-2 is a must and 3-1 is what’s really needed. If this series was at home I’d be thinking about a sweep but that might be stretching things the way our team finds ways to lose games they shouldn’t. Prediction – Diamondbacks 3-1.