Diamondbacks vs Cubs, May 19th thru 22nd at Wrigley Field
Seasons often contain a series of “turning points” both good and bad that seem to be the demarcation points during the roller coaster of a major league season. Earlier in the year Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo identified a late April series against the Dodgers where the team took 2 of 3 as a turning point. Indeed, that series seem to instill confidence as the team started playing better defense, getting hits in key moments, and received outstanding starting pitching on the way to an 11-4 stretch that propelled them to three games over .500 at 17-14.
Unfortunately that all came screeching to a halt on May 11th against Miami, in what turned out to be the next turning point. Heading into the 9th inning tied 3-3, recently activated from Covid 19 IL relievers Mark Melancon and J.B. Wendelken gave up 4 runs each in an 8 run Marlins 9th.
After a day off the team scratched out a one run victory against the Cubs on Friday the 13th, but dropped the next two over the weekend, in part due to another Melancon meltdown on Saturday and a bullpen loss by Ian Kennedy Sunday.
They staggered into L.A. for a 4 game series, including a double header on Tuesday, and were swept 4 straight. While the first two losses were by one run, it felt like the D-backs pitching was barely containing the Dodgers offense. Indeed LA exploded for 12 runs in the night cap of the double header Tuesday before taking the finale 5-3, knocking Zach Davies around for all of the early runs that Walker Buehler and the Dodgers bullpen made stand up.
Now losers of 6 straight and 7 of their last 8 the D-backs hope to reverse course in Wrigley field over the next 4 games against these same Cubs. The Cubbies are coming off a 2-1 series victory against the Pirates, outscoring them 18-3. It’s the 3rd straight series victory for Chicago, as they also beat the Padres 2 of three in San Diego before traveling to Arizona.
Things won’t get easier for Arizona as injuries are starting to pile up as well. They recently had to place three players, Nick Ahmed, Kyle Nelson, and Cooper Hummel on the Covid IL. The hard throwing Keynan Middleton was placed on the IL with elbow soreness. Ketel Marte has been day to day with a sore hand. Last word was he’s supposed to play tonight, but keep an eye on the roster moves. Indeed the roster churn over the last 5 days has been dizzying. On top of all that, after the first game at night, all three games after that are day games starting at 11:20 West Coast/Arizona Time. So body clock adjustments could be a factor as well.
The Cubs recently had to place Jason Heyward on the Covid IL as well. But they just got closer David Robertson back yesterday however as he came off the Covid-IL. Andrelton Simmons has also returned as of May 15th from his shoulder injury.
Diamondbacks lat 7 days Batting
Cubs last 7 days Batting
(Highlighted pitcher names take you to their 2022 game logs)
Zac Gallen continues to be a bright spot for the D-backs. He was excellent in his last outing against the Cubs, going 6 innings and allowing just 1 run on 2 hits, 1 walk and 9 K’s in the aforementioned bullpen loss last Saturday. The team will be counting on him to be a stopper in this one.
Marcus Stroman signed a 3 yr, $71M with the Cubs just before the lockout started. He struggled to a 6.98 ERA in April, but then had a brilliant outing against the Brewers on May 1st, (7 IP, 0 runs on 2 hit a walk and 5 K’s). Unfortunately he landed on the Covid IL May 8th and this is his first scheduled start back.
Advantage D-backs in a must win game
Humberto Castellanos gave up two early runs in his last outing against the Cubs on a couple of solo shots in the 1st and 2nd inning, and then settled down to go 5.1 effective innings. He left with the game tied 2-2, but that was the game Kennedy allowed a run in the 9th to lose it.
Kyle Hendriks match Zac Gallen last Saturday, allowing just one run on 5 hits in 5.2 IP. He’s lowered his ERA more than a run and a half over his last two starts. He’s much tougher at home in Wrigley field both this year and throughout his Cubs career.
On the surface, looking at track record and traditional stats this game matchup would seem to favor the D-backs. However the peripheral metrics like FIP & xFIP tell a different story this year, as Justin Steele appears to be out pitching Madison Bumgarner while falling into some bad luck.
Steele dominated the D-backs on May 15th, going 6 strong innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 runs, 1 earned, while striking out 10 batters.
Bumgarner got tagged for a 3 run 5th in LA this past Monday, coughing up a 2-0 lead.
Advantage: Push on the starters, but home field advantage Cubs
Merrill Kelly got crushed by the Dodgers on Tuesday night, giving up 8 runs on 5 hits, 4 walks and a homer. Hopefully it was just a whole lotta regression in one game pulling his ERA in line with hi peripherals. He only threw 56 pitches and was lifted before any more damage could ensue. Curiously, he is not officially listed as the starter for this game, as the team is showing TBA. He hasn’t been the same since his near shutout, 106 pitches max effort outing on May 6th.
Wade Miley is making just his 3rd start of the year. He began the season on the IL with a sore elbow. But he needed just 83 pitches to throw 7 innings of 1 hit shutout baseball against the Pirates on May 16th. No longer the sinker baller some might remember from his days as a Diamondback, he has become a cutter dominant pitcher over the last few years, while also featuring his changeup and four seam. He’ll mix in an occasional slider, but has all but abandoned the Curveball and Sinker. It all seems to be working for him. Since 2018 he has a 3.51 ERA, 130 ERA+ in 435 IP. There have been missed games and injury, but when he’s out there he’s been effective.
Prediction: The D-backs may not be able to do better than salvage one win out of this road trip and a series split seems optimistic the way they are playing right now. But as always, YCPB