Series Preview: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks, June 3-5

Disappointing results? Terrible alternate uniforms? Executives who barge into opposing team’s broadcast booths? The Arizona Diamondbacks have it all (but mostly those three things)! And all of it will be on display starting Friday afternoon, as the Diamondbacks arrive on the North Side to open up a three game series. It will be their only trip to Wrigley in 2016, and they come in struggling. After winning five straight games in early May, Arizona has lost 14 of 21, with their pitching staff allowing nearly 5.5 runs per game during the stretch.

It should go without saying (not when you’re trying to fill space, though, of course), but the Diamondbacks have been disappointing. Considered by some to be a dark horse contender after a busy offseason, they are currently 24-32. While their third order winning percentage puts them slightly closer to .500, they are a still a sub-.500 team. Their offense, led by Paul Goldschmidt and breakout third baseman Jake Lamb, is the team’s strength (see the “What to Watch For” section). However, while they possess some serious pop, outside of those two, the team struggles to reach base consistently.

The Cubs will not see Zack Greinke this weekend, and Arizona’s other serviceable starters, both historically (Shelby Miller) and during  this season in particular (Ruby De La Rosa) are on the disabled list. The three starters the Cubs are scheduled to face (see below) do not exactly bring to mind the 1990s Atlanta Braves. My limp snarkiness aside, the Arizona starting pitching has been dreadful, with the starters ranking in the bottom four in most major categories. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen has thrown more innings than that of any other team in the NL. Whether from overwork or just poor performance, their relievers rank in the bottom half of the league in FIP, WHIP, walk rate, strikeout rate, and stranded rate.

Arizona comes to town at a crucial juncture in their season. They are falling well behind the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West, and have stumbled to seven games back in the Wild Card race. If they hope to be fulfill some preseason prognostications for contention, they need to stem the tide while Greinke struggles and their other front end starters miss time due to injury. Let’s see how the Cubs match up heading into the weekend.

Probable Pitchers

Friday: John Lackey vs. Archie Bradley

Archie Bradley, who was Arizona’s fist round pick in 2011, has split this season between the big leagues and the Pacific Coast League. Bradley is making just his fourth start of 2016, but is coming off his best start since last April. This past Sunday, he went 7 1/3 innings against the Padres, holding them to three earned runs on just five baserunners, while striking out nine. Of note to the Cubs is that while the big right-hander’s numbers are decidedly dismal through  eleven career starts (5.44 DRA and 1.57 WHIP), he has been remarkably effective against left-handed batters, who have hit just .221/.359/.327 against him, with a nearly 20 percent strikeout rate. Those are some serious reverse splits. Overall, Bradley relies heavily on his four-seam fastball (going to it about 70 percent of the time), while mixing in a curve (20 percent) and change (1o percent).

Lackey is coming off an absolutely dominant May. In six starts, he posted a 2.09 ERA and an 0.82 WHIP, with opposing batters slugging just .298 against him . In his only 2015 start against Arizona, Lackey picked up a win by inducing three ground ball double plays and allowing one earned run in seven innings pitched. We could be in store for a similar type of ground ball barrage, as Lackey is keeping the ball down. In May, against his number two (slider) and three (sinker) pitches, batters slugged .024 and .370, respectively.

Saturday: Jason Hammel vs. Edwin Escobar

For the second consecutive day, the Cubs will face a pitcher born in 1992. While that fact might cause some of us at BP Wrigleyville to contemplate our mortality, Cubs hitters will likely be unfazed by the fact they’re going up against a guy who was born after Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show (how’s that for a relevant pop culture reference, my fellow youths?). Escobar is making just his second big league start, after posting mediocre numbers in five starts at Triple-A Reno this season (4.75 FIP and 1.36 WHIP). In his career, Escobar has gone primarily to his four-seam fastball  (68 percent), which tops out at about 95 MPH, and curve (23 percent, but jumps up to 32 percent with two strikes).

Hammel, in his lone start against Arizona in 2015, gave up four earned runs in seven innings, despite allowing just six base runners. In that game, he threw a season-high 54 sliders, and given his success with the pitch in 2016 (.226 slugging percentage) and Paul Goldschmidt’s struggles against sliders from right handed pitchers this season, we could see quite a bit of his slider on Saturday.

Sunday: Jake Arrieta vs. Patrick Corbin

Corbin is, by almost any measure, traditional or advanced, among the worst starting pitchers in the NL. His ERA (4.95), DRA (4.87), and WHIP (1.42) all rank at the bottom of the league. Power has been the killer for Corbin. He has surrendered 11 home runs, and batters are posting a .475 slugging percentage and .193 ISO. Corbin’s go-to pitch, his four-seam fastball, has been a disaster, with opponents slugging .603 against it. He is having much more success with his number two pitch (sinker), holding right-handed batters to a .400 slugging percentage, and left-handed batters to a .125 slugging percentage. Despite this success, however, Corbin’s thrown 14 or fewer sinkers in two of his last three starts, so it remains to be seen if he’ll break out with greater frequency against the Cubs.

Arrieta made two starts against Arizona in 2015, picking up 14 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched and allowing less than a baserunner per inning. Not surprisingly, he went overwhelmingly to his sinker and slider. Arrieta vs. Goldschmidt should be a fun matchup. Goldschmidt homered off Arrieta last season, but Arrieta has struck him out in five of 12 plate appearances. Right-handed pitchers are finding success with sliders against Goldschmidt (.345 slugging percentage), so do not be surprised if Arrieta leans on the pitch in their battles.

What to Watch for

The Diamondbacks, as noted above, hit for power. Entering Wednesday, among NL teams, they rank third in doubles and slugging percentage, fourth in ISO and home run to fly ball ratio, and fifth in home runs. In addition to Goldschmidt and Lamb, power is being provided by Brandon Drury (.202 ISO), old friend Welington Castillo (.192 ISO), and Yasmany Tomas (.171 ISO). The Cubs pitchers face a stiff challenge if the ball is carrying out this weekend.

While the power has been ample, the Diamondbacks rank middle to the bottom of the league in on-base percentage, walk rate, and swing rate. Just how mediocre are the Diamondbacks at getting on base outside of Goldschmidt and Lamb? So mediocre that it causes me to employ the hacky writer’s trope of posing questions and then answering them myself. Among NL batters, Goldschmidt ranks second in walk rate and Lamb is twenty-second. There is not another Diamondbacks hitter in the top 60 in the league. In on-base percentage, Goldschmidt ranks fifth and Lamb is twenty-sixth. There is not another Diamondbacks hitter in the top 45.

Paul Goldschmidt has been Goldschmidtting (c) hard recently, with four extra base hits and four walks in his last five games. Castillo, who had a torrid start to the season, is on the opposite end of the performance spectrum, hitting just .232/.270/.304 since May 5. If he wants to punish his former team, he’ll have to turns things around quickly.

Broadcast Info, Game Times

The schedule makers made the start times for this series easy to remember, as all three games begin at 1:20 CST. This means John Lackey will be getting your weekend started just as your early afternoon White Russian from Redmond’s is taking its pleasant hold. Friday’s opener will be on Comcast Sportsnet, while Saturday’s and Sunday’s contests will be on WGN. Enjoy the games!

Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.

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2 comments on “Series Preview: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks, June 3-5”

Mike Thompson

Perhaps worth noting that in the small sample of 3 starts this season, Bradley does not exhibit that same reverse split, allowing a .323/.405/.516 line against LHB and a .211/.268/.368 line against RHB.

A smart, fun read. Well done.

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