The Diamondbacks are just getting home from a short jaunt to Colorado and Arlington that saw them go 3-2 combined against the two teams, but ultimately lose ground to the red hot Dodgers, who are playing much more like they were supposed to at the start of the season over their last 10-15 games. However, they are still a game and a half up over the Marlins for a Wild Card spot, so not a terrible position to be in for the first week of May.
The Nationals are just heading out on a road trip, with Arizona being their first stop. Back on the 29th, they took a 16-1 drubbing from the Pirates, but since then, they’ve gone 4-1, including three straight against the Cubs. In two of those wins, they held the Cubs to just one run. Despite their recent pop of good luck, they are still dead last in the NL East, and third worst overall in the NL.
Game 1 — 5/5, 6:40 PM: Merrill Kelly (2-3, 3.06 ERA/144 ERA+, 1.30 WHIP) vs. Josiah Gray (2-4, 2.67 ERA/158 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP)
What kind of season is Merrill Kelly having? Is he having a season that’s 44% better than league average, as ERA+ suggests? Is he performing beyond what should be reasonable, given his 5.0 BB/9 and FIP of 4.16? Is it too early to say for certain? I think it’s probably that one. What I can say though is that his last time out against Colorado, he walked only one batter in six innings. This makes two out of his last three starts that had one walk or less. Unfortunately, the start in the middle featured five free passes. Whatever kind of season he is in fact having, he needs to get the walks consistently under control. Otherwise, it will be easy to make the call.
While he isn’t struggling with walks quite as much as Kelly is, Josiah Gray is having a fairly similar season to him. He’s actually out performing his FIP even more than Kelly is (2.67 ERA vs. 4.40 FIP). The biggest factor in his favor so far is he has been significantly better at keeping those runs from scoring overall than Kelly has been. His first start of the season saw him give up five earned runs in five innings. In the next five starts combined he has only given up five runs. This game seems like a prime candidate for the Diamondbacks offense to jump out to a strong start.
Game 2 — 5/6, 5:10 PM: Tommy Henry (1-0, 6.52 ERA/69 ERA+, 1.66 WHIP) vs. MacKenzie Gore (3-2, 3.77 ERA/112 ERA+, 1.42 WHIP)
Henry is now two starts in to his 2023 campaign and the results haven’t been great in either. It’s hard to judge based off one real start and a fake one at Coors field, but regardless seven earned runs in 9.1 innings isn’t getting the job done. Like most of the pitching staff, he is walking more people than you would like to see at 4.1 BB/9. Perhaps more concerning, though, is his near complete lack of strikeouts, only getting four so far this season.
Gore has been serviceable for the Nationals this season. Nothing spectacular, but for most of his starts, they’ve been able to count on him for five or six innings and three runs or less. His last start was the one game in four against the Cubs that the Nationals lost. He gave up four of the five runs the Cubs scored that day.
Game 3 — 5/7, 1:10 PM: Ryne Nelson (1-2, 6.39 ERA/69 ERA+, 1.52 WHIP) vs. Trevor Williams (1-1, 3.41 ERA/124 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP)
One has to wonder how much longer the leash is going to be for Nelson. He’s pitched six games this season so far. The Diamondbacks have won just one of them. Only once has he given up less than three runs and has given up at least one home run in four of his games. His last time out was his worst performance to date, though Coors Field caveat does apply here too. Depending on how this start goes, we might see yet another pitcher called up from Reno in the near future.
Williams has been around for a while at this point, having made his debut for the Pirates back in 2016. However, before coming to the Nationals, he was primarily used more as a swingman, rather than a dedicated pitcher. So far this season, the Nationals have used him only as a starter, with, much like Gore, decent if unspectacular results. He’s thrown at least five innings in all six starts, for the most part kept his team in the game, and hasn’t really been blown out at any point. Last time out, he spun 5.1 scoreless innings against the Cubs.
The deciding factor in this series is going to be how Nelson and Henry perform on their starts, and, if they struggle, will the offense be able to bail them out. It would hardly be the first time this season, or even this month, that the offense has saved a struggling, young pitcher. You can’t count on that every time. If one of the two has a good start, and the offense continues it’s overall trend of being good, then the Diamondbacks should at the very least take two out of three.