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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks Series Preview

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There should be quite a few Cubs fans at this series, too.

Norm Hall/Getty Images

ON THE ROAD TO CHICAGO -- I couldn't stay for this one as I need to get back to Chicago to get ready for the home opener Monday, but there are a fair number of people I know (maybe you do too) who went to Anaheim for the opening series and are heading to Phoenix for this four-game set. I'm assuming there will be plenty of Cubs fans in attendance at Chase Field this weekend. There generally are anyway, but there might be some snowbird stragglers hanging around to take in these four games.

Fun fact

The Cubs are 24-43 all-time in Chase Field (or its former name, Bank One Ballpark). The percentage is even worse since 2004: 14-26. That doesn't include the two division series losses there in 2007, either.

The D'backs have some new uniform styles -- even more than they used to. One of them is shown at the top of this article. Wouldn't be surprised to see four different ones this weekend. I hope the Cubs break out the road grays at least once during this series.

I asked Jim McLennan, site manager at our SB Nation D'backs site AZ Snakepit, to write me a couple hundred words on his team. Like his Angels counterpart Josh Mayhood, he wrote... quite a few more, about twice as many. Interesting stuff, though, so check it out.

#AtLeastWereNotThePadres

The Diamondbacks certainly made a splash this winter, opening their check books for the team's biggest free-agent acquisition in Zack Greinke, and sending a slew of talent to Atlanta for Shelby Miller. But will it be enough to close the gap on the Dodgers and Giants? Arizona's hopes certainly took a dent with the loss of A.J. Pollock in one of the last pre-season games - he'll miss significant time with a fractured elbow. However, the rest of the team, which outscored everyone in the NL bar the Rockies last year, will be back, led by likely MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt.

Key to sustaining that, especially in the absence of Pollock, will be Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who underwhelmed in his rookie season. New middle infielder Jean Segura will also be looking to benefit from a change in scenery, having come over from the Brewers this winter. Rookie Socrates Brito will get the bulk of starts in CF, but Chris Owings, who played mostly at 2B last year, may start against left-handed pitching. Finally, if there's an under-rated player on the roster it may be David Peralta. He's also a great story: a former pitcher in the Cardinals organization, who flamed out there, only to re-invent himself as an outfielder, and make his way through independent baseball to a spot in the Opening Day line-up for Arizona.

It will, however, likely be the pitching which is key to the Diamondbacks' success or otherwise. This was an obvious and major flaw last season, hence the very high cost - in both cash and prospects - to improve it this off-season. The Cubs will get to see the entire rotation bar Patrick Corbin over this four-game series, beginning with Rubby De La Rosa, who could be an ace, if only he was capable of harnessing his stuff consistently. Behind him comes left-hander Robbie Ray, who was the team's best starter last season, but is occupying the #5 slot to split him from the other southpaw, Patrick Corbin.

After that, the rotation rolls over to Greinke, who had a nightmare start on Opening Day, allowing more runs in the third inning than over his first four games last year. He'll be looking to rebound, and start justifying a contract which works out at about a million dollars per start over the next six years, but he'll need to do a better job of pitching down in the zone than he did against the Rockies. Finally, it's Miller on Sunday, who also had a rough time in his first D-backs start. The D-backs bullpen is led by sidearmer Brad Ziegler, who took over from Addison Reed last year and whose ongoing streak of 28 consecutive saves has tied the Diamondbacks' club record.

Pitching matchups (2015 statistics, except for Arrieta, Greinke and Miller)

Thursday: John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 3.57 FIP with Cardinals) vs. Rubby De La Rosa (14-9, 4.67 ERA, 1.357 WHIP, 4.81 FIP)

Friday: Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 3.68 FIP) vs. Robbie Ray (5-12, 3.52 ERA, 1.332 WHIP, 3.53 FIP)

Saturday: Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 3.36 FIP) vs. Zack Greinke (0-1, 15.75 ERA, 2.500 WHIP, 12.80 FIP)

Sunday: Jake Arrieta (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.429 WHIP, 2.09 FIP) vs. Shelby Miller (0-0, 9.00 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 9.64 FIP)

(Incidentally, if anyone who knows FIP better than I do can explain the FIP shown for Arrieta, I'd appreciate it.)

Prediction

Four-game series are very difficult to sweep, although the Cubs managed four of them last year, three at home and one at Miller Park. As noted above, Chase Field has been a house of horrors for the Cubs for many years, and last year was no exception. The Cubs dropped two of three in Arizona in May 2015. Of course, that was before the team started clicking on all cylinders, and they've shown no sign of slowing that down so far in 2016. Three of four, especially if they can hit Greinke and Miller the way the Rockies did.

Up next

The Cubs come back to their new 30,000 square-foot clubhouse at Wrigley Field and begin a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds beginning Monday evening.