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Series Preview # 32 : Diamondbacks @ Cubs

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An opportunity knocks for the Diamondbacks to win a series against the Cubs.

Merrill Kelly.
Merrill Kelly.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Diamondbacks will play a second series with the Cubs. As Jack wrote in the first series preview, “The bullpen has been the strength in Chicago.” In that first series, their bullpen’s ERA was better (3.48 vs 7.36) than the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.

The bullpen has been a weakness for the Diamondbacks. Their 39% save percentage is the lowest in the Majors (Baseball Reference). As could be surmised, in the first Cubs series the lone Diamondback win happened when Merrill Kelly pitched into the ninth inning.

Diamondback starters who pitch efficiently deep into the game will be a key to winning this series. For that reason, it’s encouraging that Zac Gallen and Madison Bumgarner have recently returned from the IL.

This series with the Cubs is an opportunity for the Diamondbacks for the following reasons:

  • The probable Diamondbacks starting pitchers are Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Caleb Smith. If this was a 3-game series to advance in the playoffs, those pitchers would be my picks. These starting pitchers will likely pass the game to the Diamondbacks bullpen with a lead late in the game.
  • The Diamondbacks started a positive pitching streak of allowing 6 or less runs in each game. The prior positive pitching streak was 6-13 May. Six games into the latest streak, they have allowed 4.2 runs per game.
  • With four consecutive games of 4 or more runs scored, the Diamondbacks are on the brink of reaching five games, which would be a positive hitting streak.
  • For the second time this season, the Diamondbacks won 4 consecutive games. One more win and their winning streak will be the longest of the season.
  • In July, Josh Rojas was impressive at the plate. His 20.3% BB% ranked 4th highest in the Majors, and his .429 OBP ranked 17th highest in the Majors (FanGraphs data through 20 July). He reached base in his last 12 consecutive games (through 21 July).

I’ll be bold and predict the Diamondbacks will win this series!

Saturday’s game involves a contest for fans.

Two happy fans at AZ Snake Pit who posted the best predictions will win a David Peralta or Carson Kelly bobblehead per this article. They predicted how many runs the Diamondbacks will score in Saturday’s game in this series. As a tiebreaker, they predicted how many runs the Cubs would score. Full disclosure: With optimism I predicted 6 Diamondback runs scored and zero runs allowed. If my prediction is even close to on target, it is very likely my friends and neighbors will know something big happened.

Interestingly, 28% of the posts indicated the Diamondbacks would win the game. In a way, that makes sense because through 18 July the Diamondbacks won 28.4% of their games.

Let’s look at Diamondback wins. I separated the teams the Diamondbacks played this season into 2 groups – top teams with at least 12 more wins than losses, and other teams (games through 17 July). As you would expect, the Diamondbacks won a higher percentage of games against less than the top teams (37.7% vs 14.6%). Data from Baseball Reference.

Because the Cubs are far outside the top group, the Diamondbacks’ chances of winning will be better than 37.7%. Because Merrill Kelly is scheduled to pitch that game, the winning chances were bumped higher.

Players Drafted in the First Round.

On the active roster and IL, the Cubs have twice as many players (8 vs 4) who were drafted in the first round. Of those 8 players only one was drafted within the last five years. In stark contrast, the Diamondbacks’ active roster has two first rounders drafted in the last five years (Pavin Smith and JB Bukauskas), with two more in AAA (Seth Beer and Jake McCarthy). The improved Diamondbacks farm system is close to positively impacting the team. The Cubs’ first rounders follow:

  • Nico Hoerner, 2018, 24th pick
  • Ian Happ, 2015, 9th pick
  • Kris Bryant, 2013, 2nd pick
  • Kohl Stweart, 2011, 4th pick
  • Javier Baez, 2011, 9th pick
  • Andrew Chafin, 2011, 43rd pick
  • Rex Brothers, 2009, 43rd pick
  • Jason Hayward, 2007, 14th pick

Pitching Matchups.

Friday, Zach Davies (4.35 ERA) vs Zac Gallen (3.86 ERA)

Faceoff between Zach vs Zac; whose streak will end? Recently, the Cubs and Diamondbacks have lost with these pitchers on the mound.

  • The Cubs lost the last four games that Zach Davies started. In three of the four games he left the game with the Cubs behind. In one game the score was tied.
  • The Diamondbacks lost the last seven games that Zac Gallen started. In five of the seven games he left with the Diamondbacks behind. He left with a one run lead and a two run lead.

Saturday. Alec Mills (4.64 ERA) vs Merrill Kelly (4.46 ERA)

Battle of the double L’s: Mills vs Kelly. Will each pitcher continue to improve?

  • On 15 June, Alec Mills moved from the bullpen to the rotation. His ERA improved from 6.08 in the bullpen to 3.45 in the rotation.
  • Each month of this season, Merrill Kelly improved his ERA: 6.33 in April, 4.10 in May, 4.00 in June, and 3.51 in July.

Sunday. TBA possibly Trevor Williams (5.68 ERA) vs Caleb Smith (4.38 ERA)

On 31 May, Trevor Williams had an emergency appendectomy. Five weeks later, he returned to the Majors. In two games, his ERA was 7.27, which was slightly worse than May’s ERA of 6.52.

Caleb Smith’s start on 10 July was against the Dodgers. He left with zero outs in the second inning, with the Diamondbacks down by 9 runs. The Dodgers hit 3 homers. That game was surprising because in June he pitched 6 scoreless innings against the Dodgers, and because my view that Gallen/Kelly/Smith are the top pitchers in the rotation.

Caleb Smith’s start on 19 July was against the Pirates. He showed his mental strength by pitching very well with nearly-zero earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched. Nearly-zero means he left the game with baserunners on first and second. They scored so two earned runs were charged to Smith. He astounded me by stealing second base in the sixth inning.

This matchup favors the Diamondbacks.