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Series Preview #31: D-backs vs Nationals

Great fans & great teams make baseball great!

What a fan!
What a fan!
Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images


The odds of meeting a baseball fan were near-zero at last week’s Master Gardener Conference in Portland. Between sessions, I talked with 3 other gardeners. I asked, “What else besides gardening does everyone do?” One woman had plans to attend a juggling meeting that evening – who knew that jugglers had meetings? Her phone had a video of her juggling 9 bowling pins. When I talked about my joy in writing for the AZ SnakePit, she said she was a Pirates fan. Suddenly, I understood why I saw names on the 9 bowling pins. What a fan!

The D-backs acquired outfielder JD Martinez for three prospects. What a winning trade deadline acquisition! Even Keith Law thought the D-backs came out ahead!

My thoughts drift to what Keith Law wrote about the importance of leadoff hitters having a high on-base-percentage (OBP). He wrote that the current manager of the Nationals, Dusty Baker, created lineups that included leadoff hitters with OBP below the league average. I wondered, “What lineups has he created this season?” In six recent lineups, his leadoff hitter was always Brian Goodwin. His OBP of .318 is lower than any Nationals’ batter in the first six spots, except for Stephen Drew with .315 OBP. Stephen Drew hit second in half the lineups, which also should be a high OBP player to set the table for Bryce Harper. It would be interesting to know why Dusty Baker thinks differently than Keith Law.

What about the upcoming series with the Nationals? I feel uncertainty. The Nationals are in first place in the NL Central. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are among the top dozen pitchers in the Majors. The Nationals are playing well while the D-backs were recently fighting a losing streak. I predict Saturday’s game will be a blowout win for the D-backs, and Sunday’s game could go either way.

Pitching Matchups

Friday. To Be Announced Patrick Corbin (101 ERA+, 8.5 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9) vs Max Scherzer (216 ERA+, 12.3 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9)

Patrick Corbin pitched a day early because Taijuan Walker is on Paternity leave. Although Matt Koch was called up from the minors, Lovullo stated he has not decided who will pitch Friday and Saturday. Last season, Matt Koch started games against the Nationals and the Padres. He pitched 11 innings with 3 earned runs, 6 strikeouts, and one walk.

Max Scherzer has a SO9 of 12.3 (wow!). In 12 of 19 starts, he struck out 10 or more batters. I hope the D-backs’ hitters have a good game plan!

Saturday. Zack Godley (152 ERA+, 8.8 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9) vs Tanner Roark (87 ERA+, 7.2 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9)

Zack Godley has pitched well this season. In his last start, he laid an egg. However, he is a goose that usually lays golden eggs. Compared to the D-backs rotation, including the last start, his stats remain impressive.

  • Zack Godley’s basic numbers: Of the five starting pitchers, he has the third best ERA+ (152), the second lowest FIP(3.25), the lowest WHIP(.991). He ranks second in strikeouts per walk(3.36).
  • Zack Godley’s advanced numbers: Of the five starting pitchers, his average game score (62) is tied for second best, and his percentage of starts with a positive Win Probability Added (WPA) (9 of his 12 starts) is the best.

Tanner Roark pitched poorly in June. He gave up 28 earned runs in 30 innings pitched. In July, he appeared to pitch better against the Reds. In this case, appearances are deceiving because I think the D-backs offense will overwhelm Roark.

Sunday. Robbie Ray (158 ERA+, 11.7 SO/9, 4.4 BB/9) vs Stephen Strasburg (131 ERA+, 10.5 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9)

Robbie Ray will battle toe-to-toe with a great pitcher. After the first 6 innings, I expect the score to be close! I have three reasons for my optimism.

  • Robbie Ray has a better ERA+ than Stephen Strasburg.
  • Robbie Ray has a better SO9 than Stephen Strasburg.
  • Robbie Ray’s road ERA (1.51) is better than Stephen Strasburg’s road ERA (2.45). Even more amazing is that Robbie Ray has one of the best road ERAs in the Majors.

Stephen Strasburg has a SO9 of 10.5. In 6 games of 19 starts, he struck out 10 or more batters, while allowing only one walk in 5 of those 6 games. On the other hand, he allowed 1 or more homers in more than half his starts.

State of the Season: More than Half

No half-measured efforts from D-back players. Their love of the game is front and center. With 55 wins, the D-backs are more than half way to the post season. The D-backs are playing their way to a memorable season!

Mental Habit of the Series: Challenge Assumptions

You are about to read an unlikely story. My high school teacher told me my writing skills were extremely poor. Maybe I could eke out a technical career. I accepted her judgement as truth. Liking adventure, and with support from student loans and work-study, I attended an in-state university. Freshman English was intentionally difficult and intended to weed-out unprepared students. It required me to write every week – yikes! I decided to do my best. After reading parts of books written by great writers, I wrote my thoughts in styles that imitated them. The results were shocking. My final grade of B+ was perhaps the most important achievement of my life.

Let’s consider my assumptions regarding my writing skills. Did I accept someone else’s opinion? Did I create assumptions to fit my agenda? Did I make an effort to fully understand what I was assuming? Are they true? [For those who need answers, they are yes, maybe, not at the time, and no.]

Baseball players make assumptions about their skills and abilities. To the extent that these assumptions are not based on truth, they can hinder a player’s development and become roadblocks to playing well.

In my experience, it is easy to see an assumption may not be true, and yet it is hard to change that assumption. Let’s pause and consider one practical question: How can I change a specific arse-biting assumption about my skills and abilities? I found three answers in The Four Agreements written by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Be a warrior against the invasion of an arse-biting assumption. I rebel and declare war. I test it. Regardless of the outcome, I test it again and again. Eventually, I have the dignity of a warrior, and likely have proved it false.

Crowd out the arse-biting assumption with other assumptions. I am open to inconsistent and even contradictory assumptions. I prove the inconsistent and contradictory assumptions are true and then the arse-biting assumption is weak and insignificant.

Practice doing something using my skill and ability. Enjoy and take pleasure in doing my best. Continue to practice with feedback to increase my awareness of adjustments that increase my success and to reduce my mistakes. The combination of action, doing my best, and increased awareness will eventually remake who I am. My new self is better. The arse-biting assumption only applies to my old self.

I make assumptions about my skills and abilities. Assumptions can be changed! Challenging assumptions is the habit of the series.

“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions.” Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom