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Series Preview #32: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs

We will see current Diamondbacks and possibly some future Diamondbacks disguised as Cubs.


Trade Deadline Season is really stupid. If baseball was more like Settlers of Catan, teams like the Cubs would be like "we rolled a solid bullpen arm resource, anyone have a prospect resource that they wouldn't mind trading?"

And teams like the D-Backs would be all, "Sure, we'll give you a prospect card." And everyone would leave happy. And then they'd build a road, or something. I'm not very good at Settlers of Catan.

But it's not, so instead we have a weird system of intricate one-upsmanship that lasts about a month before the deadline. Meanwhile, fans of contenders like the Diamondbacks are talking about ways to get Jeff Samardzija without giving up any prospects better than Tyler Bortnick, and fans of sellers like the Cubs are fantasizing about turning James Russell into Archie Bradley.

And all the while the national sports media is reading this and tweeting things like:

Nob Bightengale (@NBightengale) 21 Jul

Hearing rumblings abt blockbuster Samardzija-Bradley trade. Deal contingent on inclusion of IF Bortnick. #Cubs #Dbacks #Hotsportstakes

I mean, I get it. I've rooted for bad teams before, and Trade Deadline Season is literally Christmas in July. It's a chance for bad teams to get rid of their veterans (and is there any position in sports more depressing than a veteran on a bad team) and overindulge on prospects, which are fun because they've probably never failed at the major league level, and basic projection systems suggest that they never will.

I bring this up as a primer for the series, because this is not the last you will hear about the Trade Deadline over the next four days.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Hitting (wRC+): 88 90 Chicago
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
96/100 101/102 Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
33.2 14.8


In a roundabout way, the Cubs are lucky to be playing in the NL Central. They'd be within striking distance in the West, since they're essentially on par with teams like the Giants and Padres, and the stats suggest that if the Diamondbacks are better, it's by a smaller margin than you probably expected.

But they play in a division with three teams that are clearly better than they are, which means that the Cubs' rebuilding project remains on schedule, and the team will be free to turn their veterans into prospects, the lifeblood of any rebuild.

Side note: the D-Backs' offense is 13th in the NL in wRC+ at this point. What this means is that the offense is quickly disintegrating from "not exactly a team strength" to "possibly a fatal flaw." Stay tuned.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Aaron Hill, 2B
5. Jason Kubel, LF
6. Gerardo Parra, RF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS

Chicago Cubs

1. Luis Valbuena, 3B
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
5. Nate Schierholtz, RF
6. Junior Lake, CF
7. Darwin Barney, 2B
8. Welington Castillo, C

The first thing that should jump out to you about this lineup is that it's older than most rebuilding teams would probably prefer. There are only three players in Chicago's lineup who are younger than 26 and one of those is Junior Lake, who I assumed was a summer camp in Minnesota before I started writing this.

Anthony Rizzo remains the team's most evident hope for a better tomorrow, and while his numbers aren't outstanding for a First Baseman and he's slumped somewhat since the end of May, remember that Paul Goldschmidt was in Visalia when he was Rizzo's age.

Starlin Castro, the final member of the Under 26 Club, burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old who hit for average and power, which helped people ignore a dire walk rate and some subpar defense. But that average has slowly dropped, for BABIP reasons as much as anything else, and the power has dried up a bit, so now suddenly everyone's noticing the walk rate and the bad defense. He's still only 23, but he's the worst Shortstop in baseball right now by pretty much any metric you want to look at.

Starting Pitching:

Monday: Tyler Skaggs (2-1, 4.03) vs. Matt Garza (6-1, 3.17)

Insightful Commentary: Boy, it sure would be fun if these two players switched uniforms between now and the start. Just kidding. That would be pretty terrible. Skaggs was demoted to Visalia to get work during the All-Star Break, and he gave up three runs in 5.2 innings in his only start there, which is the sort of start I would probably phone in if I found I was going to be demoted for a week while everyone else got a vacation.

Garza's pitched well lately, and he's among the best pitcher who is likely to be available at the deadline. In fact, it looked like he was going to be a Ranger, before Texas bailed at the last minute, presumably because of medical concerns. Both his velocity and his K% have dropped slightly, though not enough to warrant concern by themselves. Garza will almost certainly end up as a front-line starter some contender, but I hope for a myriad of reasons that the D-Backs are not that contender.

Tuesday: Patrick Corbin (11-1, 2.35) vs. Travis Wood (6-6, 2.79)

Insightful Commentary: I doubt this would have qualified as a battle between aces before the season started, but it kind of is at the moment. It's not really breaking news to say that Corbin will be hard-pressed to keep his ERA in the low-2s the rest of the way, because that's true of every pitcher ever and getting this far probably wasn't a walk in the park for Corbin either. The ERA will probably increase in the second half, but his peripherals have been strong, so I'm not terribly worried.

I didn't actually realize Travis Wood was the Cubs All-Star until Baseball-Reference told me. He didn't pitch, but honestly I didn't watch the All-Star Game closely enough to have noticed if he had. He's done a good job of limiting baserunners this year, with a career-low WHIP. Part of that is BABIP, but he's helped himself by limiting his walks.

Wednesday: Ian Kennedy (3-7, 5.29) vs. Jeff Samardzija (6-9, 3.91)

Insightful Commentary: I don't think I realized how frustrated I was with Kennedy until the first inning against the Giants, where he gave up two runs and looked to all the world to be done. In that moment, I was as angry at him as I've ever been at a Diamondback pitcher not named Russ Ortiz or Rodrigo Lopez. But he rebounded by pitching five near-perfect innings, and postponing a bit of hate mail in the process. Why do I have a feeling that Ian is going to spend this whole second half walking a tightrope between completely blowing up and competence?

Samardzija's name has been bandied about in trade rumors, which probably makes his swoon since May that much more aggravating for Epstein and Hoyer. Since June 8th, he has an ERA of 5.33. He's still the same pitcher, but his ERA makes him look less like a quick fix than he did a month ago. Though in the long run, the Cubs might be happy they kept Samardzija.

Thursday: Wade Miley (6-8, 4.03) vs. Carlos Villanueva (2-6, 4.16)

Insightful Commentary: It's hard to say that much useful about a four-inning, two-run start, except that it says far more about the D-Backs' offense than it does about Miley.

I'm not sure there's a veteran starter I've thought about less than Carlos Villanueva. Let's see here...he spent five seasons as a sixth starter for some mediocre Milwaukee teams before leaving and becoming a sixth starter for some mediocre Toronto teams. Probably the most interesting thing about him is that over eight seasons, his ERA+ is exactly 100, which isn't even that interesting.

Three Pressing Questions:

Whatever happened to Ian Stewart: Well, after his famous Twitter rant, wherein he claimed that the Cubs were spitefully keeping him in AAA, the Cubs released them, because of course they did. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that he actually found another job in baseball, as the Dodgers signed him to a minor-league contract. Seriously though, the Cubs are literally starting Luis Valbuena at Third Base, which is not something that a rebuilding team does if it has any other options. Stewart should know better than most that the Cubs are in no position to spitefully squander talent.

So who else are the Cubs looking to move? Garza and Samardzija you know about, but the Cubs are probably taking offers on pretty much everyone other than Rizzo and possibly Wood. I'm sure they'd absolutely love to move Alfonso Soriano, it's just a matter of finding a team that wants to pay a 37-year-old $36 million through next year to play generally league-average offense and the least-inspired defense this side of Hanley Ramirez. So yeah, he'll probably end up on the Yankees.

Are the Diamondbacks interested in any of those guys? I'd imagine they've at least asked about Garza and Samardzija, but I'd be surprised if they went in that direction. I've been touting bullpen lefty James Russell for a while, and he probably makes the most sense if the D-Backs are willing to let go of a prospect or two.

Cubs Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

(All stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs unless otherwise indicated.)