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Series Preview #25: Diamondbacks @ Padres

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At least the weather will be nice

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Diego Padres
Fernando Tatis Jr. connects for a homerun
Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

The 21-55 Diamondbacks are in San Diego this weekend to play the Padres. I had my eye on this series and was considering traveling there for the weekend and work a couple of games but didn’t pull the trigger on that trip. A few of my colleagues from the Arizona Press Box will be there, no doubt taking lovely strolls on the beach in the mornings to wash off whatever negativity remains from the night before.

The Padres are 45-32 and a mere .003 percentage points behind the 2nd place Dodgers. Both teams are 4.5 Games out of first. If the season ended today, the Padres would have to travel to L.A. to play the Dodgers in the Wild Card game. Standings here

On May 29th the Padres were 34-19. They then lost 13 of 17 to drop to 38-32. However they are now winners of 7 straight, and just swept the Dodgers in a 3 game series prior to their day off yesterday. They held the juggernaut LA offense to just 7 runs and 16 hits over the 3 games

This is the first time the D-backs have faced the Padres in 8 weeks. The snakes lost 3 of 4 to open the season in San Diego and split a two game series April 27th-28th. Tonight is the first of 12 remaining games on the schedule between these two teams. So things don’t get any easier for Arizona.

The Padres team 104 OPS+ ranks 3rd best in the NL. They’re lead by their stars Fernando Tatis Jr, (22 HR, 1.017 OPS, 186 OPS+) and Manny Machado, (12 HR, 128 OPS+, +6 Defensive runs saved at the hot corner). But they are also getting an all star season from second baseman Jake Cronenworth. Proving last year was no fluke, he’s duplicated the OPS+, 134 year to date vs. 130 last year, and is playing great defense, (+7 rDRS). Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham, and Wil Myers are all having solid seasons as well. Somewhat ironically perhaps, Eric Hosmer has been the weakest link for San Diego’s offense. He’s batting just .253 with 6 HR and 93 OPS+. Unfortunately most of Hosmer’s damage this year has come against Arizona. Hopefully they figured out the game plan vs. the Padres first baseman.

Vs. Diamondbacks: 21 PA, .421 Avg, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.318 OPS
Vs. Rest of League 251 PA, .240 Avg 4 HR, 29 RBI, .618 OPS

Pitching is the name of the game for San Diego however. Despite injuries that have tested their depth throughout the season, their team ERA of 3.09 is the best in the NL, and even when you adjust for the pitcher friendly environment of Petco Park, (91 Pitching Park Factor HEAVILY favors pitchers) they STILL have a 120 ERA+, 3rd best in the NL.

The San Diego bullpen is excellent, ranking 4th in the NL in FIP based WAR and 2nd in the NL in RA-9 WAR. LINK. Closer Mark Melancon has a 1.91 ERA and 23 saves. Craig Stammen (128 ERA+) and Austin Adams (178 ERA+, 13.7 K/9) dominate from the right side while lefty Tim Hill has a 152 ERA+..

San Diego Baseball Reference Page

The Diamondbacks are a grumpy lot these days, understandably so. Look at the faces heading out to San Diego.

After finally ending their 17 game losing streak with a victory Monday night, they proceeded to lose the next two games to the Brewers in very sloppy fashion. For a while the D-backs were managing to overcome sporadically poor defense by individuals with good positioning and shifts. That kept the defense rankings in the middle of the pack for most of the season. However the total collapse of the defense the last couple of weeks has resulted in a drop down to 13th place on the NL Defensive Runs Saved table, with -7 rDRS

The pitching still ranks last in the NL, (79 ERA+) and the hitting is barely better (84 ERA+)

The team has completely lost focus, and are now yelling at each other in the dugout. While it may have been debatable whether manager Torey Lovullo had lost the clubhouse before, the players are clearly “frozen” and unable to take in any positive re enforcement or instruction at this point.

STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS

(Highlighted Pitcher Names link to their game log)

Corbin Martin had been working as a “piggy back” starter since being recalled, coming in after Alex Young got the starts. Tonight Martin gets the start instead. No matter getting starts or working in relief, he has not been able to consistently throw strikes. He walks a lot of batters, and even when he gets ahead or gets two strikes he hasn’t put hitters away. This is what development at the MLB level looks like. While much is made of Martin’s stuff, his velocity and spin rates are well off what they were pre Tommy John Surgery in 2019.

Chris Paddack has been great his last two starts, in 11 IP, walking just 1 while striking out 20. He last worked on June 18th so is well rested for this start. The DBacks will hope to recreate the success they had against him in April. In two starts vs. Arizona he gave up 8 Runs, 5 Earned, in 9 13 IP

Merrill Kelly had his best game of the season this past Monday, going 7 innings, allowing just 1 run and posting a 67 Game Score in the D-backs lone victory in their 20 games. While it’s hard to call Kelly the “Ace” of the staff, the fact is he’s pitched into the 6th inning in 11 of his 15 starts and no other starter on the team has come close to that level of reliability. On a good team with a more consistent offense, bullpen, and defense he’d probably have an ERA a run lower and 7 or 8 wins.

Dinelson Lamet had a couple of stints on the IL this year due to elbow issues, and has been brought a long very slowly since returning. But he’s finally stretched out, having thrown 81 pitches his last outing against the Reds. He went 5 innings, giving up just 4 hits and a walk, not allowing any runs while striking out 7. The Padres have the luxury to protect him, due to their excellent bullpen. If Lamet is efficient he could possibly get into the 6th inning this start, but the Padres will be more than happy with 5 excellent innings, which he’s clearly capable of delivering. It should be noted however that his 4 Seam velocity is off about 1.5 MPH, (97 in 2020, 95.6 in 2021) and he’s still throwing over 50% sliders , most in the NL, despite the elbow issues.

Zac Gallen is almost past the rehab phase of his return to the MLB roster. In his last start June 22nd vs. the Brewers he went 5 innings, giving up just 3 hits and 1 run on a solo homer, not walking a batter and striking out 8. Still not fully stretched out however he threw just 68 pitches. Look for him to be allowed to go about 75 to 80 pitches tops in this one. The Padres take more strikes looking than any team in the league, and have just the 11th highest 1st Pitch Swing %. (Dbacks are dead last in that too). Report Link So Zac will want to challenge hitters early in counts and get ahead. Easier said than done with some of their mashers though.

Yu Darvish is not quite in the middle of Cy Young debates like he was last year, but he’s still been very solid for San Diego, as the numbers above attest. They are getting exactly what they hoped for when they traded Zach Davies and a bunch of lottery tickets (none of whom are anywhere close to the majors) to the Cubs for Yu. He dominated the Dodgers in his last start, going 6 innings, striking out 11 and giving up just 1 run. How cool would it be if the D-backs had a stud ACE out in front of the rotation making just $59M for 3 seasons through 2023, instead of Mason Saunders roping in $79M through 2024 !

Game 2 of this series looks like the most winnable game if they can run Lamet’s pitch count up early and scratch out a run or two before the middle innings and Merrill puts together back to back good games. Don’t ask me to give odds on that though