Friday, April 24, 2015

Next Up: The Arizona Diamondbacks

This could get interesting.

The last time the Pirates played the Diamondbacks it was last August 3. Pittsburgh lost, 3-2, in ten innings. But the game was notable because Andrew McCutchen left the game after tying the game with a sacrifice fly, 2-2, in the eighth inning. That was the last time he played until over two weeks later, on August 19.

The reason for his exit on August 3 was this play on August 2:

The day before, Ernesto Frieri hit Diamondbacks star Paul Goldschmidt in the hand with a pitch, breaking a bone and ending Goldschmidt's season. I don't think Frieri hit Goldschmidt intentionally--at the time, he had only a vague sense of where the ball was going once it left his hand--but there's no doubt that Goldschmidt was (and remains) the big star on a weak Diamondbacks team. So by baseball's childish you-hit-my-star-I'll-hit-yours ethos, McCutchen was due to be hit, I suppose.

Hit, maybe, but not drilled in the back by a 95 mph fastball. A pitch like that can, and did, cause injury. As I pointed out, the Pirates lost the next game as McCutchen left early. Including that game, they were 5-10 until McCutchen returned to the lineup on August 19. Five of those losses were by just a run. Remember, the Pirates finished two games behind the Cardinals. Three more wins and they'd have started a best-of-five Divisional Series with a well-rested Gerrit Cole in Los Angeles instead of starting Edinson Volquez, who got shelled, against the San Francisco Giants and their bionic lefty, Madison Bumgarner, in the wild card game. So, yeah, it's not likely, but it's possible that Randall Delgado's fastball to McCutchen's ribs wrecked the Bucs' postseason.

(Incidentally, this is why I really disliked Arquimedes Caminero hitting Ryan Braun with a pitch last Saturday after McCutchen was hit earlier in the game. Tell me how that was any different from what Delgado did to McCutchen last year, other than the resulting injury.)

Anyway, this could give the series more weight than your typical late April series between an 8-8 team (Pittsburgh) and an 8-7 team (Arizona).

The Diamondbacks had the worst record in the National League last year. So far this year, their hitting's been middle of the pack: In the 15-team National League, they're sixth in batting average, seventh in slugging percentage, and eighth in on-base percentage. Goldschmidt has led the way, batting .296 and pacing the club in homers (5), runs (13), RBI (16), and slugging (.611). Center fielder A.J. Pollock leads the club with a .358 batting average and .417 on base percentage, and outfielder Ender Inciarte has hit .310, though without much else in the way of walks or power. At the other end of the spectrum, four regulars are batting .220 or worse: second baseman Chris Owings (.220), catcher Tuffy Gosewich (.191), 2B/3B Aaron Hill (.158), and shortstop Nick Ahmed (.136). One of the more intriguing position players is Yasmany Tomas, signed to a six-year, $68.5 million contract over the winter and apparently before anybody determined whether he could catch baseballs. He was sent to the minors during spring training but called up on April 15. He's had three singles in seven plate appearances, appearing in one game as a third baseman and four as a pinch hitter. 

On the mound, they're seventh in starting pitcher ERA but 13th (4.20) in reliever ERA, with more blown saves (2) than saves (1). The best starter has been 22-year-old rookie Archie Bradley, who has a 2-0 record and a 1.45 ERA. The Bucs will miss him. They'll go against Josh Collmenter (1-2, 3.38 ERA) tonight, Rubby De La Rosa (2-1, 6.00 ERA, acquired via trade from Boston over the winter) tomorrow, and Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.58 ERA, acquired via trade from Tampa Bay over the winter) on Sunday.

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