The Diamondbacks are playing their best baseball of 2014, taking two out of three from the league-leading Milwaukee Brewers to win consecutive series for the first time all year. Arizona is 4-2 on their nine-game road trip so far, and have relied on their bullpen and timely hitting to win a series of close games, including back-to-back wins on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After starter Josh Collmenter gave up five first inning runs (one earned) on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks came crawling back to take the lead with a three run eighth inning, allowing Addison Reed and the bullpen to come through to close out a 7-5 win. On Wednesday, Arizona rode yet another solid start by Bronson Arroyo, as he went 7.1 innings of one-run ball in the Diamondbacks' 3-2 win to close out the rubber match. After their recent stretch of success, the Diamondbacks currently sit at 13-24 and 9.5 games behind first-place San Francisco and Colorado in the NL West.
Chicago has emerged from just about nowhere to become a dark horse contender in the AL Central, largely because of the league's second best offense (171 runs) that is also seventh in the majors in team batting average (.260). The White Sox have jumped out to a 18-17 start to the season, and are lurking at five games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Chicago is batting .263 at U.S. Cellular Field, scoring the fifth most runs at home in the major leagues this season (83). Their offense, along with a pitching staff headed by ace Chris Sale, have shown themselves to be worthy of possible consideration for the second wild card spot in the American League. Their pitching staff has had their struggles (26th in the major leagues in team ERA), but with solid contributors such as Sale and John Danks, there definitely is hope for improvement as the season progresses.
The White Sox come into the series having won their first three games in their series against the Cubs, and have won a total of four in a row, going 6-4 in their last ten games. Chicago is also 10-7 at home this season (12-7 in the city of Chicago, if you count their two wins at Wrigley Field earlier this week), and will try to limit a Diamondbacks team that actually has a winning record on the road this season (10-9).
On The Mend
The Diamondbacks placed right hander J.J. Putz on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a right forearm injury. Putz, who has a 5.40 ERA in 13 appearances this season, showed no structure damage in his forearm in an MRI taken Wednesday, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Putz is expected to be shut down for a week to ten days before he is expected to resume a throwing program.
Chicago designated hitter Adam Dunn was held out of the startling lineup for the second straight game with a calf injury on Wednesday, according to the team's official Twitter. Paul Konerko is expected to take over Dunn's spot in the lineup while Dunn is out with an injury.
Arizona right hander Mike Bolsinger (1-2, 6.08 ERA) was optioned to Triple-A Reno after his start in Arizona's 8-3 loss to Milwaukee on Monday. In a resulting move, the Diamondbacks purchased the contract of right hander Evan Marshall from Triple-A Reno, who threw 1.1 perfect innings out of the bullpen in his major league debut Wednesday, a 3-2 win.
After right hander J.J. Putz was placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Diamondbacks recalled right hander Chase Anderson from Double-A Mobile. Anderson is 4-2 with a 0.69 ERA in six minor league starts this season.
Chicago optioned outfielder Jordan Danks to Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday. In a resulting move, they recalled third baseman Conor Gillaspie from the 15-day disabled list.
Cubans Launching Missles
With the flurry of offseason moves and players exchanging teams during the winter, it has become clear in the month of April that the best transaction of the offseason so far was one that fell under the radar: The Chicago White Sox's signing of first baseman Jose Abreu. Abreu has been on a tear since the beginning of the season, becoming just the second player in major league history to be named American League Rookie of the Month and American League Player of the Month in their first career month (after Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig in June of last year), and leads the majors in home runs with 12 and with 35 RBIs with a .266 batting average. He also has posted a 0.7 wins above replacement (WAR), and leads the major leagues in slugging percentage thus far in 2014 (.604).
Contrary to the common trend for right handed hitters, Abreu has actually been a much more productive hitter against right handers, batting .276 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs. He's also turned things up a notch when it matters most, batting .316/.391/.763 with four home runs and 25 RBIs with runners in scoring position this season.
With the emergence of Abreu, it marks the second straight season that a Cuban free agent (Puig) has emerged to stardom into the major leagues to change the fortunes of their teams. With the addition of Abreu to a White Sox lineup that already has studs such as Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, it is easy to see why the slugging White Sox have ridden their offense to their early success this season.
Game 1, Friday 7:10 CT: RHP Brandon McCarthy (1-5, 4.67 ERA, 4.03 FIP) vs. RHP Andre Rienzo (2-0, 4.50 ERA, 6.00 FIP)
McCarthy is coming off of his best outing of the season in his last start in San Diego, going seven scoreless innings and giving up just three hits in picking up his first victory of the year. McCarthy has gone at least five innings in each of his starts this season, giving up three earned runs or less in each of his last four outings. He has also more than proved his reputation as a ground ball pitcher, posting a 1.76 ground out/fly out ratio so far in the 2014 season. Rienzo has mostly just avoided trouble in his first three starts, picking up two wins but relying mostly on the defense behind him (as shown by his 6.00 FIP) to win games. His last time out, he managed to control the damage, giving up three earned runs on seven hits and four walks in 4.2 innings of work in a no decision.
Game 2, Saturday 7:10 CT: LHP Wade Miley (2-3, 5.14 ERA, 4.50 FIP) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (1-2, 3.56 ERA, 3.53 FIP)
Miley has yet to pick up a victory in his last five starts, with his best chance coming in his last start in San Diego. He wasn't able to hold onto a 3-1 lead, giving up three runs on six hits in seven innings of work in Arizona's 4-3 loss. The southpaw has struggled with keeping men off base in 2014, posting a WHIP of 1.31 in his first eight outings. Quintana is coming off his best start of the season, giving up one run on one hit in seven innings and picking up a no decision against the Chicago Cubs on Monday. He also has gone at least six innings and giving up three runs or less in all but one start so far in 2014.
Game 3, Sunday 2:10 CT: TBA vs. RHP Hector Noesi (0-2, 8.27 ERA, 2.80 FIP)
The Diamondbacks have yet to announce their starter for Sunday's rubber match, but the expectation from team sources is that it will be the recent call-up Chase Anderson making his major league debut and taking Mike Bolsinger's place in the starting rotation. Anderson is 4-2 with a 0.69 ERA in Double-A Mobile this season, striking out almost a batter per inning and holding hitters to a .159 batting average on the season. Noesi, already on his third team in 2014 (Mariners, Rangers), has moved back to a starter's role in Chicago, giving up one run on four hits in five innings against the Cubs on Tuesday. He has had more than his share of struggles this season, primarily out of the bullpen.
Call me a wishful thinker, but I think Arizona stands a real shot at winning their third straight series here. If Brandon McCarthy can maintain his current strong stretch of play and the offense can get runs on Rienzo early, it is very easy to see the Diamondbacks taking the opener. I also think that while Anderson would bring more than his share of question marks this season, Noesi's struggles have been so great that Arizona can build an early lead and the Anderson can have no stress to go out and pitch a near-perfect game. I say that the Diamondbacks certainly take one game, but the odds are high that they can take two out of three to win their third straight series on this road trip.