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Series Preview #20: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants


Since the end of the Barry Bonds era, the Giants' have generally been perceived as a team that pitched well, hit poorly, and won all of their games 3-2. That's not a perfect description, of course, because there were also years like 2008, when they pitched poorly, hit poorly, and won 72 of their games 3-2.

Generally though, people tend to think of the Giants as a pitching-first, hitting-never franchise. And there's been plenty of evidence to support this:

Giants Team OPS+ since Barry Bonds' Retirement:

2008: 83

2009: 82

2010: 98

2011: 91

So yeah, they've been bad offensively. They were mediocre rather than putrid on offense in 2010, and it got them a World Series. They then turned right around and were terrible again. This is most people's perception of the Giants.

But I didn't include 2012, and that's because a funny thing happened there:

2012: 106

That was second in the National League. Now, the raw numbers don't look that special because, as we all know, AT&T Park is hard to hit in and right by the water and terrible and filled with Giants fans and terrible and what were we talking about?

Anyway, the Giants stealthily (well, "stealthily" by the standards of a World Series winner) made themselves a good hitting ball club last year. I mentioned it in a preview last year, but it was mostly in the context of looking at how awful the Diamondbacks were that they couldn't even out-hit the freaking Giants.

And now, the transformation is complete in 2013. But, like two months of Carlos Beltran, it comes at a cost:

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):

San Francisco
Hitting (wRC+): 95 100
San Francisco
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
90/90 113/104
Fielding (UZR):
15.9 9.9


That wRC+ is tied for 12th overall, so it isn't like the Giants are simply wrecking havoc on the league. They're still 28th in home runs. But when you compare it to what this team looked like in 2011, they may as well have switched bodies with some of those mid-2000s Texas Rangers teams that trotted out Kevin Millwood as a staff "ace."

Even the pitching-happy confines of AT&T Park can't prevent the Giants' starting pitching from looking tragic. The rotation has an ERA of 4.84, and the third-highest Walk Rate of any rotation in the NL. Perhaps most ominously, only the Brewers' and Padres' rotations have given up more home runs in the NL. As I write this, Dave Righetti is lying in his bed, trying and failing to summon a carton of ice cream using just his space magic, and wondering it all went wrong.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Didi Gregorius, SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Cody Ross, LF
5. Martin Prado, 3B
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Cliff Pennington, 2B

1. Gregor Blanco, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Andres Torres, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS

Pagan is listed as day-to-day, but he's missed 12 straight starts, so I'm just going to assume that the Giants are still an Angel away (angel away) from their ideal lineup.

Of note, Blanco is the only guy in there with an OPS below .700. In comparison, even the best constructed Diamondbacks lineup has about four such players, and Chase Field is much easier to hit at than AT&T Park.

Two years ago, Brandon Crawford hit .204/.288/.296, which is awful, but he played defense and was a living, breathing person, both of which made him more valuable than Orlando Cabrera. So, the Giants kept throwing him out there. And somewhere along the way, he transformed from a glove-first guy to one of the better young Shortstops in baseball, with an OPS+ of 125, a rising BB% and a much improved ISO%. In terms of career turns, this one is like Gerardo Parra on crazy pills.

Brandon Belt is currently second in the National League All-Star Voting for First Basemen, and frankly, it's a tragedy. How is he only second, with a line of .412/.474/1.000 in 19 whole Plate Appearances?! I mean, that's just...wait...

Actually, upon further review, Belt has in fact played games against teams other than the Diamondbacks this year. And in those games, he has an OPS that's 300 points lower than Paul Goldschmidt's. Just something to keep in mind, that's all.

At one point last year, I think I complained about the Diamondbacks not trading Patrick Corbin for Marco Scutaro. No offense to Mr. Scutaro, but admitting this probably gets me disbarred from talking about baseball.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.06) vs. Matt Cain (4-3, 5.45)

Insightful Commentary: I make it a point not to dwell on Win-Loss Record for pitchers here, because, to put it diplomatically, it's a stupid stat and people who use it in analysis should feel bad about themselves. But even still, it's sort of cool that Corbin has a chance to break the Diamondbacks' record for consecutive wins to start a season. And before you try to diminish it by talking about how short the D-Backs' history is, remember Webb and Haren and Johnson and Schilling. This is pretty cool company for Corbin.

Nobody talks about Matt Cain's home run rate any more. It's barely even relevant. He's shown a career-long ability to give up an uncomfortably-small number of homers, and it's just sort of accepted. That is, until this year, when he's on pace to shatter his season record for home runs given up. His HR/9 has almost doubled in 2013 and it's a big reason why his ERA is over 5 despite most of his other stats being in line with his career rates. Of course, giving up a bunch of home runs probably signals that something else is wrong, I just have no idea what that something might be.

Saturday: Trevor Cahill (3-6, 3.27) vs. Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 3.46)

Insightful Commentary: Cahill went through a weird period in the beginning of the season of trying to incorporate his cutter more. It worked, but he has sort of stopped using it in recent starts, I guess because he feels more comfortable with the sinker. Which is fine, because his sinker is wonderful when it works. But it doesn't get many strikeouts, and those tend to help pitchers. Am I bringing this up because Cahill's gotten five total strikeouts in his last three starts? Almost certainly, but it's something to keep in mind regardless.

When Bumgarner put up a 3.21 ERA in a 2011 season where he didn't turn 22 until October, it was fair to wonder: just how good was this kid going to become? Since then, he's replicated his performance but he really hasn't improved upon it. I don't say this to demean him in any way, because most pitchers Bumgarner's age curl up in the fetal position around the fifth inning because they think it's nap time. But the concern was how good Bumgarner would become, and so far at least, the answer is that he's a really good pitcher, but he isn't great.

Sunday: Tyler Skaggs (1-0, 3.86) vs. Chad Gaudin (1-1, 2.21)

Insightful Commentary: You probably noticed at some point this week that the Cardinals have a pretty good offense, so worrying about Skaggs' last start against them seems a bit counterproductive. The home runs were a concern, because home runs were a concern last year for Skaggs. But on the whole, I was reasonably encouraged by the lack of walks, and I'm willing to chalk this up to a shaky start against a great offense.

There's an alternate universe where this is a showdown between two marquee prospects in Skaggs and Zack Wheeler. Chad Gaudin is not Zack Wheeler, any more than he's a marquee prospect, but he has been more than serviceable for the Giants this year, albeit mostly out of the bullpen. But with injuries and ineffectiveness, this will probably not be the last we see of Gaudin in the rotation, for better or worse.

Five Pressing Questions:

How many games have the Diamondbacks and Giants played this year? Six.

In how many of those games were the Diamondbacks tied or leading going into the eighth inning? Five.

In how many of those games did the Diamondbacks blow their lead or tie? Five.

How many of those games did the Diamondbacks end up winning? One.

Wait, hold on. What? I don't even know. But I don't think I'd be adverse to the Diamondbacks winning every game 11-2. I also think I'd be okay with not seeing any of our late-inning relievers pitch to Brandon Belt for a little while.

Giants Blog: McCovey Chronicles

(All stats from Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)