Baseball's rivalry week always feels sort of like a slow song at a middle school dance to me. Everyone who's paying attention instantly pairs up with their soulmate, leaving a few weird kids to look around and wonder what the hell just happened.
Because of geography and league alignment, the Diamondbacks are perpetually that weird kid. They don't have anyone, so they just sit in the corner trying desperately to make eye contact with someone. And this year, the Texas Rangers happened to look over at just the right time.
Let's ignore, for a moment, that there's no history, no animosity, and very few shared players between the two franchises. Actually, there isn't even proximity compared to most of these rivalries. Phoenix and Dallas are 1,063 miles apart, and I suspect if the two cities were stuck in an elevator together, they wouldn't have anything to talk about beyond, "So sprawl's pretty cool, huh?"
But, dammit, they're our rivals! The D-Backs haven't played the Rangers much, but when they have, they've lost. Like, a lot. The Rangers lead the overall series 17-8. The last time the Diamondbacks actually won a series against the Rangers, Andy Benes started the rubber match.
Also, there was that nonsense with Justin Upton this offseason. The Rangers were all, "We want Justin Upton," so the Diamondbacks were like, "Cool, we need a shortstop and you have two really good ones, so..."
And then the Rangers were like, "Nah, we just remembered, we actually need both of them," so Arizona was all, "Why do you need two shortstops?" And then the Rangers were like, "For stuff and things." So the D-Backs were like, "K, have fun with Craig Gentry in your starting outfield." And here we are.
So yeah, if you can't have rivalry week with the team you hate, hate the team you have rivalry week with.
What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):
It's not exactly surprising that the Rangers are this good, since they've won at least 90 games the past three seasons. But since they lost key cogs in their lineup like Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, people had started murmuring that they might take a step back. It's a testiment to the guys who are left that that hasn't happened.
It's been a while since the Diamondbacks have faced a team with better park-adjusted pitching numbers than they do. Darvish you know, but there are a number of less-heralded guys in their rotation who are chipping in. The entire rotation has ERA+ above 110 and the bullpen has an ERA of 3.25, which is hard to do in the Bandbox in Arlington.
1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Didi Gregorius, SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Eric Chavez, 3B
5. Cody Ross, LF
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Martin Prado, 2B
8. Miguel Montero, C
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. David Murphy, LF
3. Lance Berkman, 1B
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Geovany Soto, C
7. Craig Gentry, CF
8. Jurickson Profar, 2B
Mitch Moreland and Berkman currently have the two highest OPSes among uninjured Rangers, so I imagine we'll see a fair bit of each over the next few days.
Ian Kinsler is on the 15-day DL, so the Rangers' two shortstop solution looks fairly smart for the time being. Andrus has had a rough start to the season offensively, hitting .268/.315/.325 so far. He's never had much power, but what little he had has disappeared so far. His defense still keeps him valuable, though.
Profar has all of 36 PAs in the majors, and only 19 in 2013, so we'll focus on his minor league numbers for now. He looks like your pretty typical good-but-not-great middle infield prospect until you stop and consider his age. He's 20, and he's putting up above-average numbers (compared to the league, so don't get on me with your PCL jazz) at a premium defensive position. He's not a "can't-miss" prospect, because those don't actually exist, but he's the closest I've seen in a while.
Every so often, Adrian Beltre has a season that makes you take notice (see: 2004, 2010). Which is great, but it sort of obscures the fact that he's a really good player even when he isn't having one of those seasons. He's above-average offensively, and he's one of the best defensive Third Basemen to ever play the game. I wouldn't be surprised if he was a stealth Hall of Fame candidate.
We're probably safely out of that weird window where Nelson Cruz was one of the better Outfielders in baseball, since his high strikeout rate is probably enough to keep his average and his OBP down. Gentry is currently platooning with Leonys Martin until Martin has the monster season that people have been expecting out of him for a while.
Note: This isn't one four-game series. It's two two-game series, and everyone other than Bud Selig seems to understand this. Thus, I'm just doing pitching for the doubleheader. Check back on Wednesday for an abbreviated Series Preview on the second half.
Monday Pt. 1: Tyler Skaggs (0-0, N/A) vs. Martin Perez (0-0, N/A)
Insightful Commentary: Skaggs' 5.83 ERA in the minors is eye-catching, but as you all know, in the PCL, three runs are added to the scoreboard every time a runner crosses the plate. Skaggs has been fine, particularly lately, with three straight Quality Starts and a 22:3 K:BB rate. He'll only be up for a couple of hours, but impressions can make a lot of difference in a situation like this, so we'll hope he makes a good one.
Ron Washington evidently had the same idea about how to use his 26th man, so we'll be seeing the Rangers' top pitching product as well. Like Skaggs, Perez pitched in 2012 in a limited capacity and was in contention for a rotation spot in Spring Training before being sent to the minors. Perez throws fairly hard for a lefty, but his strikeout rates haven't been great in the upper minors and he can be prone to walks.
Monday Pt. 2: Trevor Cahill (3-5, 2.81) vs. Yu Darvish (7-2, 2.84)
Insightful Commentary: Someone mentioned a weird stat about Trevor Cahill recently: he has the longest active streak (28) of starts in which he's given up four runs or less. As far as vaguely positive streaks go, this is probably just about the least sexy one I can think of. Still though, it means he's kept games generally close and low-scoring more consistently than pretty much any other pitcher in the game over the past year, and there's value to that, I suppose.
Darvish has improved on almost everything in his second season in the majors, including his already-dominant K/9, and the one factor (walk rate) that held him back a bit in 2012. Most people probably would have considered him an ace last year, particularly in the first half of the season. So far at least, Darvish has removed any doubt, with the top strikeout rate in baseball by a large margin.
Three Pressing Questions:
Remember that minor league Third Basemen who people said could be the centerpiece of an Upton trade? How's he doing? You're thinking of Mike Olt, who was one of top 3B prospects in all of baseball to begin the year. Things have gone downhill rather abruptly for Olt since then, as he's hit .139/.235/.236 in Triple-A so far in 2013, due at least in part to an odd issue with his eyes. As unpopular as the actual Upton trade has been so far, any Rangers trade built around Olt would have qualified as an unmitigated disaster at this point.
Can we watch Ian Kinsler slide into a base? Why not:
If this rivalry is going to be a thing from now on, do we at least get a cool trophy, like the Rangers and Astros used to have with the Silver Boot? Well, sure! Rivalry trophies should have some relevance to both sides, so all we have to do is come up with something from the shared history of two teams. So...uh...
/scans Baseball-Reference Trade History
I guess that leaves us with a statue of Dustin Nippert. Preferably made out of dried Spaghetti-Os.
(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)