Three days ago, I wrote:
This series (against the Marlins) has the feeling of a trap, where they go into it expecting to continue rolling, take their foot off the gas, and get beat.
I sure do hate being right some times. The Diamondbacks lost the first two games right off the bat, quickly ending their streak of winning or splitting every series to start the year. They picked up a bit of momentum, if that’s your sort of thing, in the third game of the series when they had a very strong showing against reigning Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara, and Gallen pitched a scoreless 6 and 2⁄3 inning. Despite the let down that this series was, they leave Miami still with the sole possession of first place.
The Cardinals are not having a great start to the season. The enter this series 7-9 and 5-5 over their last ten. That’s good for merely fourth place in the NL Central. Their starting pitching has struggled, with three of their starters 25 points or more below league average (according to ERA+). Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, they get the two that are above average.
Game 1 — 4/17, 4:45 PM: Merrill Kelly (0-2, 2.93 ERA/151 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP) vs. Jack Flaherty (1-1, 1.76 ERA/237 ERA+, 1.50 WHIP)
Is Merrill Kelly pitching well this season? I guess it depends on how you look at it. He isn’t giving up many runs! He’s keeping the ball in the park! He has an ERA a run lower than his career number, and ERA+ says he is 51% better than league average! That’s good! But the peripherals don’t look great. His FIP is almost two runs higher than his ERA, and he’s currently handing out free passes at a rate of SEVEN walks per nine innings. That’s not great! I don’t want to say it too loudly, but it kind of reminds me of how Bumgarner started last season. If he can bring those walks down, it will be a lot better situation all the way around.
Jack Flaherty’s season is not dissimilar to Kelly’s so far. He’s preventing runs from scoring, which is ultimately the goal. However, his FIP is significantly higher than his ERA at 5.41. This, much like Kelly, is driven by an astronomically high walk rate of 8.2 per 9IP. His 14 walks given up leads the league, which considering how walk happy the Diamondbacks have been is impressive. His last start was much better, though. He held the Rockies to just one run on five hits and one walk over 5 and 1⁄3 innings, at Coors.
Game 2 — 4/18, 4:45 PM: Drey Jameson (2-0, 1.46 ERA/306 ERA+, 1.05 WHIP) vs. Jordon Montgomery (2-1, 2.45 ERA/170 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP)
After single-handedly propping up the bullpen for the first couple weeks of the season, Jameson moved back into the starting rotation. His first start was expectedly short, only going four innings before being pulled. Those four innings were very solid, despite the hard pitch count. He did not let Milwaukee score, did not give out a walk, and only allowed three hits. I will still be on a hard pitch count, I’d have to imagine. I can’t see him going more than 80-85 pitches.
Montgomery will be the toughest challenge the Diamondbacks face during this series. He isn’t really letting people on base, either by walk or hit. Of the twenty batters to have reached against him, only five have been able to come around to score. That solid ERA is actually a tick higher than his FIP, meaning these numbers might just be sustainable, in the short term at least.
Game 3 — 4/18, 10:15 AM: Madison Bumgarner (0-2, 7.90 ERA/56 ERA+. 2.12 WHIP) vs. Jake Woodford (0-2, 5.56 ERA/74 ERA+, 1.74 WHIP)
There has been a lot of digital ink spilled about Bumgarner over the past three or four days. We’ve been talking about him, Jack and Michael have been talking about him, Nick P had a write up about him. There isn’t really anything left to say, but why not repeat it. Maybe the team will hear it this time. He has been really, really bad so far this year. He’s allowing baserunners at an alarming clip. Hitters are collecting home runs at a rate that is only second to his 2020 season. It looks like batting practice when he is out there. He and the team have been kind of, sort of hinting that there might be some sort of injury. After his first start, he was sent back to Phoenix for arm fatigue. His last start was pushed back, and he alluded to things going on during that time. If he’s injured, they need to put him on the IL. If he’s just bad, it’s time to go.
Woodford had two poor starts at the beginning of the season, but last time out against the Pirates, he had much better results. In 5.1 innings, the Pirates were unable to score, he only walked one, and for the first time in 2023 did not give up a home run.
One flaw in my format for series previews is the lack of a designated area to discuss the offense or the bullpen, only the starters. The bullpen especially is a cause for concern, as somehow, they might actually be worse than last year, with an ERA over five when you take out Jameson (hat tip Jack on Twitter for that). With that, it doesn’t matter what Kelly or Dray do, if the bullpen continues to struggle.
Barring divine intervention, I feel confident in saying that the team is going to lose the third game of the series. I’d love to be wrong, but I kind of doubt it. Jameson’s game especially is going to be dependent on the bullpen, as he likely won’t pitch past the fourth or fifth. There are a lot of things going against them this series, in my opinion, but regardless, the Cardinals have struggled so far this season. If Arizona can take advantage of that, they’ll be looking even better through this difficult month of April.