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Series Preview #1: Diamondbacks vs. Padres

And so it begins!

Yu Darvish stares into the distance in the Padres dugout Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Well, folks, we stared out the window and waited for spring longer than normal, but like always, spring did arrive. With that glorious changing of the seasons, we once again embark on 162 games of Diamondbacks baseball. There will be wins, there will be losses, but at the end of the day, it’s baseball. Play ball!

First up, the Padres come to Chase for a four game series. Last year, the Padres got off to a hot start, and were challenging the Dodgers for supremacy in the West. However, club house issues, injuries, and just general lack of performance, seemed to weigh the team down as the season progressed, leaving them to finish third in the division, nearly equidistant between the Giants in first, and the Diamondbacks in last.

Game 1: Madison Bumgarner (7-10, 1.182 WHIP, 91 ERA+*) vs. Yu Darvish (8-11, 1.094 WHIP, 92 ERA+)

An Opening Day of veterans who underperformed last season. I guess techincally, an arguement could be made that Bumgarner did have something of a bounce back season, given that he went from a 70 ERA+ in 2020 to a 91 during the last campaign. Still well below what would be considered peak Bumgarner, however. The question becomes, of course, is there anything left in the tank for him to improve upon, or was the slightly below average he was able to achieve last season the best we can hope for? His third Opening Day start for the Diamondbacks will begin to answer that question.

Darvish took a step backwards in 2021, putting up his second worst ERA+ of his career, ahead of only his 2018 season which was shortened by injuries. It definately wasn’t the first season the Padres were hoping for from their new acquisition, especially as his HR/9 was above career norms, and more than double 2020, despite playing half of his games in San Diego.

Game 2: Merrill Kelly (7-11, 1.291 WHIP, 96 ERA+) vs. Sean Manaea (11-10, 1.227 WHIP, 104 ERA+)

Merrill Kelly had another solid year last season, continuing as the most consistent and dependable starter in the Diamondbacks rotation, despite returning for thoracic outlet surgery in the prior offseason. In return, he was rewarded with a contract extension during spring training, which will keep in in the Valley through at least 2024

Sean Manaea just joined the Padres less than a week ago, after spending the entirety of his career thus far with the Oakland A’s. His addition to the rotation was so immediate, in fact, he went from being scheduled to pitch for the A’s against the Padres, to pitching for the Padres against the A’s instead. The Padres seem to have gotten a solid pitcher, who has had an above average ERA+ for his career. Not likely to be the team’s ace, but will more than likely be good for 25-30 decent starts for them.

Game 3: Zach Davies (6-12, 1.601 WHIP, 74 ERA+) vs. Joe Musgrove (11-9, 1.081 WHIP, 122 ERA+)

One of the newest Diamondbacks, Zach Davies comes to us by way of the Chicago Cubs. A very rough 2021 proceeded his arrival in the desert, putting up career worsts in almost all categories. Unfortunately, the periferals don’t seem to indicate it was a fluke, including a walk rate that was twice as high as it had been in the previous four seasons, so keep an eye on if a change in scenery will help him turn things around. Otherwise, every fifth day might be a rough one for Diamondbacks fans.

Joe Musgrove, unlike Bumgarner and Darvish, had a very good season for his debut with the Padres. It was his best season of his career by ERA+, and also his longest, pitching more innings than any other season prior. His ERA outperformed his FIP by about half a run, but even so, his 3.70 FIP would have been his best ERA of his career. Some how, he will manage to start 40 games against the Diamondbacks this season.

Game 4: Caleb Smith (4-9, 1.372 WHIP, 88 ERA+) vs. TBA

A strong Spring Training earned Caleb Smith the last spot in the rotation just a couple of days ago. He threw in five games, and only gave up five earned runs. Torey Lovullo said in the announcement that he felt Smith had earned the spot, in addition to his past experience starting. Smith, of course, came over from Miami in 2020 and pitched well. A step back in 2021 lead to him only making 13 starts, with the rest of his appearances coming from the bullpen.

Conclusion

My conclusion this series? Who cares. There’s baseball. Just a few short weeks ago the entire season looked to be in jeopardy, and yet here we are. That’s the important thing, or at least that’s what I tell myself as the Diamondbacks look to depart on a season that will probably land them in the draft lottery next year. My guess is they split the series, with the Diamondbacks best chances coming in the Kelly and Smith starts.

(All stats are from last season)