Arizona got their second half of the 2014 season off to a bang, picking up their first three-game sweep of the season against the Chicago Cubs. After falling behind early in Friday night's opener, Arizona rallied for two runs in the fifth inning and three runs in the sixth inning for the 5-4 win. It was the power of Goldschmidt in the second game, as his deep bomb in the eighth inning powered the Diamondbacks to the 9-3 win on Saturday night. Arizona battled through a pitcher's duel in Sunday's finale, scratching their way to three runs off of Cubs starter Jake Arrieta in the 3-2 win. Arizona is now securely in fourth place, posting a 43-56 record to get 11.5 games behind San Francisco and Los Angeles for first place in the NL West. They are a half game behind San Diego for third place in the division.
The Diamondbacks' offense showed some progress in their last series, moving to 24th in the majors in wRC+ (90) and 22nd in offensive WAR (9.0). Their lineup is currently batting .256/.308/.392 and posting a wOBA of .308 (19th in the majors). They remain towards the middle of the league in BABIP at .300, but struggle in getting the second-lowest walk rate in the majors (6.3%). The pitching staff, however, remains a problem as they have the 26th-best team ERA in baseball (4.25), which when adjusted for FIP still 23rd (3.95). They struggle when pitching to contact, yielding the fourth-highest BABIP in the majors (.310), and only strike out 7.93 batters per nine innings (12th in the majors).
Detroit has been powered by one of the best offenses in baseball this season, posting the second-best wRC+ in baseball (111) and 12th-best offensive WAR (13.3). They have the highest batting average in the league in batting .278/.332/.441 as a team. Not only does this offense get hits, but their third-highest ISO (.163) shows that their base hits have power behind them. Their pitching has been below par from recent years, dropping to 23rd in the majors in team ERA (4.04), which when adjusted for FIP is 16th (3.78). They strike out batters at a below-average rate, striking out just 7.52 K/9 this season.
The Tigers are coming off of a four-game set against Cleveland that saw them take just one of four games. They come to Arizona to kick off a seven-game road trip that also goes through Anaheim to play the Angels. They're an impressive 28-16 on the road this season, and 54-41 overall. They are currently 5.5 games ahead of Cleveland for first place in the AL Central.
On The Mend
Diamondbacks left fielder Cody Ross was held out of the lineup for Sunday's game against the Cubs. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a calf injury.
Tigers right hander Max Scherzer was nearly scratched from his start on Saturday with neck spasms and is listed as day-to-day, MLive.com reports.
On Saturday, the Tigers reassigned the contract of right hander Chad Smith to Triple-A Toledo; in a resulting move, they recalled right hander Corey Knebel from Triple-A Toledo.
The End of Verlander?
Two years ago, Tigers right hander Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball. Coming off of a season in which he won both the AL MVP and AL Cy Young Award, he would go 'just' 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA in his encore performance. Now, he's stuck in the midst of an 8-8 season that's seen him post just a 4.88 ERA.
So what's the problem?
Verlander's 1.46 WHIP is the highest of his career, and is on pace to finish with a WAR below his career-low (1.5 in 2008). His velocity is down, and he simply just hasn't been able to rear back and fire late like he was able to earlier in his career. The velocity drop in part can be explained by the fact that he has thrown over 200 innings in every season since 2007, but regardless is probably more due to his advancing age (he turned 31 this year).
Game 1, Monday 6:40 PT: RHP Justin Verlander (8-8, 4.88 ERA, 4.02 FIP) vs. LHP Vidal Nuno (2-6, 5.10 ERA, 4.90 FIP)
Verlander looked to be off to a good start in his last outing, going six scoreless before the Royals exploded for five runs in the seventh for the 5-2 win. He's really struggled of late, going 3-5 with a 6.29 ERA in his last ten starts. He's 4-3 with a 5.07 ERA on the road this season. After going seven scoreless in his first outing in a D-Backs uniform, Nuno gave up a grand slam to Giants catcher Buster Posey as he would pick up his first loss in the desert.
Game 2, Tuesday 6:40 PT: RHP Rick Porcello (12-5, 3.39 ERA, 3.94 FIP) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (6-4, 3.64 ERA, 4.72 FIP)
Porcello dominated Kansas City in his last start, giving up a run on six hits over seven innings in picking up the win. He's been dominant overall when on the road this season, posting a 8-2 record with a 2.91 ERA over his ten starts outside of Comerica Park. Anderson halted his four-game losing streak in his last start, giving up a run on seven hits over six innings in a win against the Marlins. He's 4-2 with a 3.93 ERA in six home starts this season.
Game 3, Wednesday 12:40 PT: RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-4, 3.22 ERA, 2.86 FIP) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (1-6, 5.63 ERA, 4.32 FIP)
Sanchez breezed through the Indians lineup early on in his last start before running out of steam, and ended up giving up four runs on six hits over six innings in picking up the loss. Sanchez is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in six road starts this season. Cahill was solid in his last start, giving up three runs on four hits in picking up the no decision against the Cubs over five innings. He has an astonishing 7.27 ERA at home this season.
I'm being optimistic in saying Arizona takes one of three games from this series. Verlander has had his struggles this season, but Nuno should be no match for his prowess. Anderson gives us the best shot in the second matchup, as his has had most of his success at home this season. Sanchez has had success against Arizona in his career (picking up a no-hitter while with the Marlins), and Cahill has yet to show he can be even an average pitcher at this level this season.