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Series Preview # 18 : D-backs @ Rockies

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A pair of teams contend for a wild-card berth.

chasing a wild pitch
chasing a wild pitch
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

A Pair of Wild Teams

This series is between two teams actively contending for a wild-card berth into the playoffs.

Will the Rockies go all-in for a third year as wild cards? The Rockies were wild-card teams in each of the last two seasons. In the off-season, they acquired two first basemen, Daniel Murphy and Mark Reynolds. Despite making no major acquisitions, their $145-Million 25-man opening-day payroll is their highest ever.

At 23-27, their win-loss record is worse than preseason expectations. They stand in fourth place in the NL West. Nevertheless, they are not out-of-contention. I anticipate changes in July to increase their chances of a third consecutive wild card season.

The D-backs are competing for a wild card berth. Two seasons ago, the D-backs were a wild-card team and won that game. Instead of a tear-down and rebuild, the GM Mike Hazen has kept a competitive team while focusing on building the farm system.

The first 50 games of their schedule was playoff-worthy (as Jim McLennan noted, 44 of the first 50 games were against teams with winning records). With 25 wins and 25 losses, the team wildly exceeded preseason expectations. Can the team be tweaked to increase the odds of a wild card berth without impacting farm system? As an optimist, I say yes! The bigger question is will Mike Hazen find the right opportunities?

If the last series is any indication, this series will be a wild-ride with big innings and unearned runs. The first game had two big innings by the Rockies (4 runs, all unearned, in the fourth inning, and 3 earned runs in the ninth inning) and despite the big innings the D-backs won a close game 10-9. The second game had two big innings by the D-backs (3 earned runs in the second and 4 earned runs in the third) and again the D-backs won. The third game had the Rockies score 5 runs in the eighth inning (1 unearned) and the Rockies won a close game 8-7.

Double-fest. This series is between two teams that hit a lot of doubles. Through 23 May, the D-backs hit 111 doubles (first in the Majors), while the Rockies hit 100 doubles (4th in the Majors). The two teams hit a total of 15 doubles in their last 3-game series.

Who will pitch in this series?

Monday. Jon Gray (108 ERA+, 9.8 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9) vs Zack Greinke (154 ERA+, 8.4 SO/9, 1.1 BB/9)

Jon Gray has two habits that improved his mental strength.

  • When failure happens (examples are a homer, bad fielding allows runners to reach base, or umpire calls that go against him), he looks at a flagpole. It triggers him to remember what he is doing and reset himself. “I acknowledge what happened. ... But this is where I’m at right now and this is what I need to do. So it’s almost like finding an opportunity in it.”—Jon Gray
  • He listens to an audio track on game days. “It’s got all my information of what I do on a start day.”—Jon Gray

In May, Jon Gray’s pitching changed. Although he improved his ratio of strikeouts to walks from 2.1 to 4.6, his hits per 9 innings worsened from 7.5 to 10.4. The impact on his ERA was bad. It worsened from 3.65 to 6.17. The D-back offense came alive last series against the Giants. I predict the D-backs score at least 5 runs against Gray.

Zack Greinke’s preparation is legendary (as is his intensity).

  • “He is a scientist as a pitcher. I think he might remember every pitch he’s ever thrown to anyone, and the sequence.” — Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten
  • ”Each year I try to take that year and try to be consistent the whole year, and don’t go into any game without being 100% prepared and doing everything I can to be ready.” — Zack Greinke

Tuesday. Antonio Senzatela (81 ERA+, 5.8 SO/9, 3.9 BB/9) vs Merrill Kelly (94 ERA+, 6.8 SO/9, 3.7 BB/9)

Antonio Senzatela is mentally tough.

  • “He’s always been there in terms of being calm, cool and collected. He’s strong up there, and he’s a warrior.” — Rockies catcher Tony Wolters
  • He’s a competitor, he’s got good stuff, how he’s built inside.” — Rockies manager Bud Black

In his last two starts, Antonio Senzatela has struck out 4 batters while walking 7. His low strikeout rate makes runners in scoring position exciting!

It is remarkable that Merrill Kelly left the minors to pitch in the Korean Baseball Organization. While there, he developed a mental strength of clear-headed self-examination. “Sometimes over there, you have to be your own pitching coach….You have to navigate the waters on your own sometimes. That forced me to start to look for things I didn’t before because you have to fix it.” — Merrill Kelly

Wednesday. Jeff Hoffman (63 ERA+, 8.1 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (137 ERA+, 11.8 SO/9, 4.8 BB/9)

A milestone was reached. When playing baseball, Jeff Hoffman’s intensity and decisiveness are always on display.

  • “Expect the same amount out of yourself, regardless of where you’re at,…Whatever they expect of me up there [Majors], is what I expect of myself down here [minors].” — Jeff Hoffman.
  • “I was really encouraged when the season started that we were going to see some of that carry over from the spring into the early-season outings in Albuquerque.” — Bud Black

Robbie Ray’s off-season preparation was effective.

  • “All the success that he had during this spring was a result of the hard work he put in during the offseason, ...” — Tory Lovullo
  • “Everything just is clicking. I think I feel more prepared going into this season than I have in years past. You know, mentally, physically, I fell in a really good spot right now.” — Robbie Ray

Thursday. Kyle Freeland (83 ERA+, 7.9 SO/9, 4.1 BB/9) vs Taylor Clarke (155 ERA+, 4.7 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9)

Kyle Freeland struggled in May. How did he react?

  • “I’m doing my best to stay as positive as possible, have as much confidence as I can and create momentum, even though right now for me it’s not really there.” — Kyle Freeman
  • “I’ve been looking at video from last year from about late May and onward. …I’m looking at my mechanics, my arm slot, the delivery and comparing those with my recent starts this year.” — Kyle Freeman

Taylor Clarke’ high pitching IQ gives him the edge in this match-up, which is his third start in the Majors.

  • “He’s a very intelligent pitcher, he knows exactly what he wants to do, really advanced.” D-backs scouting director Deric Ladnier
  • “I just feel like I have a tough mentality out there, just trying to go out there and get ahead of batters and establish my fastball. Just getting ahead and moving my fastball around the zone, that’s always been my biggest thing.” Taylor Clarke