Perhaps these Diamondbacks are proof that taking a few days off work do wonders for your overall performance. Since the All Star break, they’ve gone 5-1, and were a couple of late runs to the Nationals away from being undefeated. On the other hand, maybe they’re just an example of what happens when a mediocre team faces off against a bad team and another mediocre team that’s in a terrible funk. This series against the Braves will be a good test to see which theory holds true. If they well in this series, it bodes well for how enjoyable the rest of the year will be. If they crash and burn, well, it’s probably going to be more of the same. Just call this series Punxsutawney Phil.
The Braves, on the other hand, are the first Wild Card in the National League and only a couple of games behind the Mets for first place in the NL East. They’ve been a very good team at home, with a 33-21 record, and they have the third best run differential in the National League. They come into this series with the Diamondbacks 3-3 since the break, however, after winning their first series back against the hapless Angels, then losing a series to the team right behind them in the standings, the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s a strong team, who needs to win series like this. It will be interesting to see how the young Diamondbacks react.
Game 1 — 7/29, 4:20PM : Madison Bumgarner(6-9, 1.33 WHIP, 109 ERA+) vs Kyle Wright (12-4, 1.15 WHIP, 144 ERA+)
As we approach the deadline, Bumgarner’s name has died down significantly in potential trade rumors, in large part due to the fact that he hasn’t been as good as he was in the first six weeks of the season. July has been a mixed bag with two good starts of 7 and 8 IP of two run ball, but the other two starts both have seen shorter outings and more runs. He did face off against these Braves at the beginning of June, holding them to two runs in six innings.
Kyle Wright hadn’t been given too many chances in the first three seasons in his career. Before this year, the most starts he had made in a season was in 2020 where he made eight and put up a below average ERA+. Despite that, he made the Opening Day rotation this season, and is making the most of it. In his 19 starts, he’s put together an ERA+ of 144, which would make him the best starter on the Diamondbacks by a huge margin. He held the Diamondbacks scoreless for six innings back in June, but he did give up five walks, so arguably it was a matter of wasting opportunities rather than being shut down.
Game 2 — 7/30, 4:20pm: Corbin Martin (0-0, 1.63 WHIP, 105 ERA+) vs. Ian Anderson (8-6, 1.57 WHIP, 80 ERA+)
The Dallas Kuechel experiment came to and end at the All Star Break, and Corbin Martin was the chosen one to replace him in the rotation. His first start was serviceable, even if it wasn’t anything to write home about. He went four innings, only allowed one run but was ultimately tagged for a loss. Between this start and his long relief appearances, he seems to be capped at about 70-75 pitches. Since the plan as far as I can tell is to keep him in the rotation, I’d imagine we’ll start to see that stretched out a bit, presumably until he gets to the 100 pitch limit that most of the other pitchers are on. This time around I probably wouldn’t expect more than 80-85.
This season, Anderson has taken a step back from his successful first full season in the Majors. 2021 saw him pitch 24 games and earn an ERA+ of 124. He also placed fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, his second time placing in the top ten after 6 stellar starts in 2020. This season has been a lot harder for him. His walks are up, his strike outs are down, and he’s giving up almost ten hits per nine innings. None of that is a recipe for success. He only has one career start against the Diamondbacks last year, but given how different the two seasons have been for him, I’m not sure that it’s any use predicting how this matchup will go.
Game 3 — 7/31, 10:35AM: Merrill Kelly (10-5. 1.14 WHIP, 133 ERA+) vs. Max Fried
I guess I should put an asterisk by this game, simply because Merrill Kelly’s name has come up so often in trade talks as probably the most valuable ML level trade piece the team has. I personally don’t think they trade him, but you never know. If he is on the trading block, he has put in some serious work to increase his value. He hasn’t given up more than two runs in over a month, including an eight inning scoreless gem against the Giants his last time out.
Max Fried is in the middle of arguably his best season in a very good career. Statistically, his season in 2020 might have been better, but given that he already has nine more starts than that season, and they’re in the same range, I’d say you have to give it to this season. His ERA is the lowest its ever been for a full season. His HR9 is not only leads all of MLB, but it’s the lowest it’s been in his career, his walks are miniscule, and unlike previous seasons where his ERA has outperformed his FIP, it’s actually the other way around this season. If the Diamondbacks want to win this one, they’ll need Kelly at his best and a healthy dose of that small ball we saw in the finale of the Giants series.
As I said in the introduction, this is not going to be an easy series for Arizona. They had a soft landing coming out of the break, and now they face their first test of a tough second half. They have to take care of business in game 2 and take advantage of Ian Anderson’s down year. Then if they get lucky and steal away a win against either Wright or Fried they can leave Atlanta with a series win. I think they manage it, though, so I’ll say they win two out of three.