It's not terribly often that the Texas Rangers take on the Arizona Diamondbacks, so we've brought in some help to preview Texas' upcoming series. Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit was kind enough to take time and answer a few questions about the D'Backs and the upcoming series.
Last year, the Diamondbacks were one of the biggest surprises in baseball. This year, they're a .500 team headed into Tuesday. What's been the difference between the '11 D'Backs and '12 D'Backs?
Aside from Upton, whom we'll get to in a minute, a couple of other members have fallen short of last year's numbers: third-baseman Ryan Roberts has largely regressed to the journeyman he was prior to 2011, and Miguel Montero has also been significantly worse than last year. Generally, they've been a lot less clutch, with a terrible .552 OPS in "late and close" situations - last year, the same number was .810, best in the league.
On the pitching front, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have not been as consistent. But I think a key factor has been a bullpen that has surrendered a lot more late leads. In 2011, the D-backs lost only six games all season, where they were leading or tied after seven innings.This year, they've already suffered nine such defeats, and that's a big factor in why their record in one-run games is 7-11 - clearly much worse than the 28-16 from 2011.
Justin Upton is one of the game's most incredible talents, there's no doubting that. What are the reasons for Upton's struggles this year?
It's kinda odd, since the peripherals are fine. Line-drive percentage is up, BABIP about the same, walk-rate up. The strikeouts are somewhat higher, and what is notable is he has been taking a lot more strike threes - almost half (49%) of his K's have been looking, which is close to twice the average rate. That's odd, since his overall "looking strikes" number is not significantly high. Quite why his eye at the plate develops cataracts with two strikes, I've no idea.
The Rangers are facing off against Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley and Dan Hudson. Which pitcher do you expect to give the Rangers the most trouble, and why?
I'd probably cross Hudson off; he's coming off the shortest outing byan Arizona starter in almost three years, lasting less than two innings against the A's, and has been inconsistent since coming back off the DL - he missed six weeks in April and May. Miley is left-handed, and I do note the Rangers have lower numbers, particularly for power, against them: Miley has been the season's most pleasant surprise for us, and has to be right up there with Bryce Harper for Rookie of the Year thus far.
However, I'm going with Kennedy, he has the best xFIP of the trio, and has kept his ERA below four, despite a BABIP 24 points worse than league average, and is striking out close to a better per inning of work. Perhaps most importantly, his wife gave birth to his second child on Sunday. The day after his first was born, he three-hit the Phillies, so we're expecting nothing less!
Which member of Arizona's lineup, Upton aside, could do the most damage against the Rangers, that fans should keep an eye out for?
Young first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt is currently riding a 17-game hitting streak, and over that time has had a line of .419/.500/.855, so it's not been a cheap streak. He struggled at the beginning of the year, but his plate discipline has got much better of late, and he has stopped trying to pull everything. The book on him has been to pitch "Goldzilla" away, but he is now going the other way with those pitches, and he has enough power to get out of the park there too.
How are D'Backs fans approaching this series -- are they using it as a barometer to take stock where Arizona is, or is it just another series, despite it being against the two-time defending American League champs?
No, it definitely has barometer tendencies. We are riding a five-game winning streak, but as I noted on the SnakePit, "beating the Rockies and A's feels more like a light sparring session, in advance of the heavyweight bout we're facing this week," as we take on Texas and Anahem. We're 14-20 against teams at or above .500, and if we're to continue climbing back towards where we want to be, need to do better.
Arizona are entering a stretch of games which could end up defining whether we're contenders or pretenders, so need to step up our game. It won't be easy, that's for sure, but you can't deny the truth of the cliche that, if you want to be among the best, you've got to beat the best.