Can you feel that feel? That feely feel? That’s the excitement that has been building up in our collective guts over the long, cold, Arizona winter finally being released (no, it is not gas). For it is spring, and that means that baseball is here! Let’s take a look at the first series of the year and what we can expect for the first four games.
Game 1: Madison Bumgarner vs. Zack Greinke
The first game of the year will obviously always feature both team’s best starters, and this game will be no different. The Giants will throw out perennial all-star Madison Bumgarner, who is only 27 years old but sports a career line of 100-67 with a 2.99 ERA, and 29.1 bWAR. Oh yeah, and he has a World Series MVP to his name. The Dbacks will send out Zack Greinke to oppose him, and Greinke is no slouch either. Greinke will be entering his age-33 season, and fans and critics alike have raised some questions about his diminished velocity this spring. But even in a very down year in 2016, he still managed to go 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA, and was worth 2.3 bWAR (Although you look for a little more than that when his salary is a record for a pitcher). As I write this, I am watching a MLB Tonight special where Al Leiter is showing a breakdown of some advanced metrics on Zack Greinke that I thought were very interesting:
2015: BABIP - .373 Framing – 20.2 
2016: BABIP - .481 Framing - -16.8 
These two issues were clearly not the only things that plagued Greinke last year, but a healthy outfield and more defensive minded catchers might help these metrics quite a bit.
Game 2: Johnny Cueto vs. Patrick Corbin
Johnny Cueto is coming off of a great first year with the San Francisco Giants, and was clearly worth the money that the Giants spent on him a little more than a year ago. Cueto went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and pitched 219.2 innings. Patrick Corbin on the other hand, has spent most of the last couple of years working his way back from the dreaded Tommy John surgery. In 2015, Corbin pitched 85 innings in his first appearance after the UCL surgery and looked like he wouldn’t have far to come to get back to his all-star level of 2013. But then, 2016 happened. Corbin struggled mightily all year long, and eventually was “demoted” to the bullpen. After his move to the bullpen however, we started to see some serious improvements. His velocity bumped up to the high 90’s and his slider looked a little sharper. These improvements mixed with what management saw this spring was enough to give him the #2 starting pitcher’s spot behind Greinke. Look for Corbin to have a bounce back year, and return closer to his 2013 form in 2017.
Game 3: Matt Moore vs. Taijuan Walker
Matt Moore actually draws a lot of parallels to Patrick Corbin. Both are left handed. Both had their only all-star appearances in 2013. Both missed huge chunks of time in 2014 and 2015 with Tommy John. Moore definitely has the stuff to be a good to great MLB pitcher, but it will be a matter of how well he continues the long road back from surgery. Taijuan Walker is our shiny new toy this year; being brought over from the Mariners in exchange for a couple of players headlined by Jean Segura. Walker is very young still, but has shown flashes of greatness, mixed with inconsistency. He has been developing a slider this spring that could help him achieve his potential, so be on the lookout for that pitch come Wednesday.
Game 4: Jeff Samardzija vs. Robbie Ray
Jeff Samardzija is coming of off a 200+ inning season in which he contributed 2.8 bWAR for the Giants. “Shark” as he is affectionately known, is entering his age-32 season, but has still shown that he has plenty left in the tank to offer. Robbie Ray is one of life’s great mysteries... It has been well documented on not only this site, but many others, that Ray has elite “stuff” that corresponds to elite levels of strikeouts. But this has yet to manifest itself into a truly successful season. He is very much the same type of pitcher that Max Scherzer was when he was with the Diamondbacks: A flamethrower that had great swing and miss stuff, but struggled with throwing too many pitches, and consequently could rarely get through 5-6 innings. Let’s hope that Robbie Ray takes the same turn that Scherzer took, because if he does, then we are in for one heck of a treat!
San Francisco Giants
The Giants of the last six or seven years have mostly been a team that relies heavily on defense and great pitching. But this does not mean that they don’t have their fair share of good offensive players. In stark contrast to the Diamondbacks, the Giants sport an offense mostly devoid of very young position players. Almost all of their offense was born in the eighties, with only 2B Joe Panik, C Trevor Brown, and OF Mac Williamson being born in the nineties (90, 91, and 90 respectively). Led by veterans like Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Denard Span, and Brandon Belt, the Giants tend to play smart baseball, and Bruce Bochy does a great job of putting his players in a position to succeed.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the youngest offenses in all of baseball last year, and this year will not be much different. With all infielders and outfielders outside of Daniel Descalso being younger than 30, the Dbacks lineup is littered with young potential. Starting the year with a healthy Pollock and Peralta will go a long ways towards making this season a more successful one (Fun Fact: A.J. Pollock and Jeremy Hazelbaker share the exact same birthday). Despite the youth, the Diamondbacks are poised to have an above average offense should everyone stay healthy. Paul Goldschmidt is his usual MVP-self, Jake Lamb appears to be ready to take yet another step forward in his development towards becoming an all-star caliber third baseman, and Pollock adds some serious power/speed to the outfield. Also look out for both Brandon Drury and Chris Owings to continue their development, and make contributions to the offense.
The pitching appears to be heavily in favor of the Giants this series, but the Dbacks have three pitchers going that either have had success at the big league level, or have a lot of potential, so do not count them out in this series. On paper, the Diamondbacks have the advantage when it comes to the offense with talent all across the diamond. But the Giants are the “gritty” veterans that won’t go away, and although they are not flashy, they will never give up and will try and scratch and claw at any runs they can get. Get excited because baseball is here once more, and today at 1:10 pm local time, I will be sitting on my couch in extreme anticipation for the 2017 Diamondbacks!
Call it my hyper-optimistic personality, or call it the spring effect, but I think that the Diamondbacks take three of four from the Giants to open the 2017 season. I think that a mixture of renewed focus, home opening series, a very healthy team, and a new manager means that the team will come out of the gates red hot to start the year. Enjoy it Dbacks fans!!!