It's been a while since the Cubs faced the Diamondbacks -- late May in Phoenix, where the D'backs took two of three, both by one run. It's so long ago that Junior Lake, Mike Baxter and Edwin Jackson all appeared in the series for the Cubs.
So, I asked the manager of SB Nation's Diamondbacks site AZ Snakepit, Jim McLennan, to tell us a bit about his team.
The Diamondbacks' 2015 has been an improvement overall on their 2014, but considering the latter saw them finish the year with the worst record in the majors, that's not much of a surprise. They're clearly not contending -- the last vague hope of that was snuffed out by a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals last week -- and the target is now to see if they can live up to Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa's preseason expectations, where he said he would be "heartbroken" if they didn't have a winning record. We are perhaps a better team than the record suggests; actually, coming into this weekend's series, the D-backs actually have a better run differential than the Cubs (+22 vs. +20). That's entirely down to the offense, which has scored more runs than any other team in the National League. You know Paul Goldschmidt, of course, and perhaps even fellow All-Star A.J. Pollock, in center. But perhaps the most underrated member of the roster is another outfielder, David Peralta, who was originally a pitcher. His career flamed out there, he returned to Venezuela, reinventing himself as an outfielder, and was playing indie ball as recently as July 2013. Now, he's batting .305 with an .881 OPS, trailing only Goldie among everyday players. The team is also getting great production from former Cub Welington Castillo, who has blossomed in an everyday role since being traded from Seattle, with 15 home-runs in 61 games. Our pitching on the other hand is... Hey, did I mention our offense? It's really good! Look at all those shiny runs! Are you not distracted by them? We knew, coming in, our rotation was going to be a work in progress, and it remains that way. Right now, the official website says "To be announced" for the entire series, and that's an accurate summary of the entire season. Patrick Corbin has come back well from Tommy John surgery, but after that are a series of question-marks. Young pitchers like Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray often have great stuff, but severe problems harnessing it. Top prospect Archie Bradley hasn't been the same after taking a line-drive off his cheek. Zack Godley, a prospect we received from you in the Miguel Montero trade, looked good in a short rotation stint, and is returning to start the opener of this series. The bullpen has been inconsistent. Original closer Addison Reed was so ineffective he was sent down to the minors after converting three saves, and since then was traded to the Mets. Replacement Brad Ziegler, a ground-ball generating machine, had converted 22 straight, but his last two outings have been horrible, and fatigue may be an issue. Beyond that, it's more question-marks. Daniel Hudson and Enrique Burgos can bring it at close to 100 miles per hour, but Hudson, David Hernandez and left-handed reliever Matt Rsynolds are all still returning from Tommy John surgery. [Yeah, we had a LOT of that last year. At one point, we had five major-league pitchers in various stages of the rehab process.] Overall, we can slug it out with the best of them, and I'd say our base-running and defense are both above average; we trail only the Reds in stolen bases, and have a lot of solid glove-man, with Nick Ahmed at short perhaps the best of the crop. The problem is, our pitching is as unreliable as... as... as a severely unreliable thing [that sentence sounded better in my head], and I feel like a meltdown inning is never potentially far away. How much our pitchers can avoid those will likely go a long way to deciding the fate of this series.
Friday: Jon Lester (8-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, 3.06 FIP) vs. Zack Godley (4-0, 1.90 ERA, 1.099 WHIP, 3.64 FIP)
Saturday: Jake Arrieta (17-6, 2.11 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 2.50 FIP) vs.Robbie Ray (3-10, 3.72 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 3.38 FIP)
Sunday: Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 4.15 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, 3.53 FIP) vs. Rubby De La Rosa (12-6, 4.46 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 4.68 FIP)
As Jim hints in his preview, the key to defeating the Diamondbacks is stopping their offense, which, with Goldschmidt in the lead, is tops in the National League in runs. But their pitching has been so bad (59 more runs allowed than the Cubs) that they have a losing record even when scoring four runs in a game (12-14; the Cubs are 12-9 when scoring four runs). The Cubs have their two top starters going in this series, so I don't see any reason the Cubs shouldn't win two of three here. Of course, I thought that about the last series, too, and look what happened. The Cubs really do need to take this series to get themselves back on track.
The status of Kyle Schwarber will have a large impact on this series; at this writing we don't know the results of the MRI for the minor rib issue that kept him out of Wednesday's game.
The Cubs head on the road for a big three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals.