Series 32 Preview: Cubs at Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt has been one of the few consistencies in the Diamondbacks’ order this year. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The leaders of the NL West host the Cubs for a four-game series, with Arizona’s half-game lead over the surging Dodgers potentially on the line. The D-backs team has been somewhat of a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts squad, with a few standouts making up for some major disappointments. It’s little surprise GM Kevin Towers is rumored to be looking for reinforcements by the July 31 trade deadline. There have been only two constants in the Diamondbacks’ lineup so far: first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and a terrible running game. On the latter, Arizona is 29-for-54 in steals, a 54 percent success rate that is alarmingly bad. Their steals leader is Goldschmidt, who does much more than run the bases well. He has turned out to be a superb draft pick for the Diamondbacks, selected in the eighth round in 2009 by former scouting director Tom Allison (now with the Mariners). In the rotation, 23-year-old Patrick Corbin has been the only above-average regular, and the bullpen has been a mixed bag for Towers as well.
HITTING: 4.1 Runs Scored/Game (6th in the NL)
In parts of three seasons in the majors, Goldschmidt has proved himself with an ability to improve across the board. His walks, batting average and power are up this year, and his strikeouts have diminished, adding up to a .309 AVG/.392 OBP/.550 SLG that ranks in the league’s top 10 for each category. Beyond his No. 3 hitter, manager Kirk Gibson has had little consistency in the lineup, employing 82 different batting orders in 95 games. Young shortstop Didi Gregorius, acquired via trade, has cooled off considerably (.227/.303/.277 since June 1) and is now splitting time with a can’t-get-hot Cliff Pennington. The other big trade acquisition, multiposition man Martin Prado, also has been cold all year and a major disappointment along with catcher Miguel Montero. Second baseman Aaron Hill missed two months with a broken hand, but he continues to earn his sizable contract despite now being on the wrong side of 30. There’s little help in the outfield either. Youngsters A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra haven’t done much at the plate, while veterans Jason Kubel and Cody Ross have struggled despite being part of a platoon.
PITCHING: 4.1 Runs Allowed/Game (7th in the NL)
The Cubs will face some talented young arms this series. It turns out the first two starters—lefties Tyler Skaggs and Corbin—were part of the bounty that came back from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal. Skaggs is more of a crafty type, with a low-90s, four-seam fastball that he can use on both sides of the plate and a big, knee-buckling curve. Command has been something of an issue for him in the majors, and his offerings versus righties, notably a change-up and two-seam fastball, are still developing. Selected just a few dozen picks later, Corbin has been the Diamondbacks’ top pitcher by far, with a 2.35 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP and just under seven innings per start. The tall, lanky pitcher can work his fastball up to 94-95 mph with life, before coming back with a hard slider released from a low-three-quarters arm angle. That punch-out pitch has only increased in effectiveness and has the sort of two-plane movement that makes it effective against both hands. The series closes with righty Ian Kennedy—an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has increasingly struggled since his career year in 2011—and lefty Wade Miley. In the bullpen, typically a Towers strength, new closer Heath Bell has been too homer prone to be a true anchor, but sidearmer Brad Ziegler has been Gibson’s most used, and most effective, weapon.