What's going on with the Diamondbacks?
Arizona started the season by losing two games in Australia to the Dodgers, and things didn't get much better from there. The Diamondbacks exited April with a 9-19 record and it already looked like major changes had to be made.
Instead of firing general manager Kevin Towers or manager Kirk Gibson, team president Derrick Hall has brought in the legendary Tony LaRussa for help. LaRussa is just starting up as the team's chief baseball officer, but the Diamondbacks are already starting to play better.
The Snakes were 9-6 in the month of May before recently being swept out of St. Louis by the Cardinals this week, and the offense is really coming around. Paul Goldschmidt is still playing like the MVP candidate that he established himself as last season. Center fielder A.J. Pollock is doing a great job to help management not regret the Adam Eaton trade (even as Addison Reed is looking like a bust at closer), and Chris Owings is providing great value at shortstop.
The pitching on the other hand, is kind of gross. The preseason injury to Patrick Corbin has left the team without an ace, and no one has stepped up to replace him. The lowest starter's ERA is Josh Collmenter's 4.02, and he started the campaign as a reliever.
Unless veterans like Bronson Arroyo and Brandon McCarthy start to pitch beyond their capacities, the Arizona offense is going to struggle to support the pitching staff all season long. That could make for a long summer in the Phoenix sun, but we'll see if LaRussa can't work his magic and turn these Snakes around.
Who are these guys?
Ender Inciarte would probably make this section for his name alone, but he actually could turn out to be a fun young player who has an unexpected impact on this series. Recalled from the minor leagues on April 30 when fellow lefty Roger Kieschnick proved expendable, Inciarte is a defense-and-speed guy who is getting semi-regular playing time in a Diamondbacks outfield that seems to pride itself on defense and speed. At 23 years of age, he's not too old to be a prospect, but he's not on any of Arizona's top prospect lists. That might have something to do with his modest .281/.327/.362 line in a full season of Double-A last year. Inciarte earned a promotion in 2014 by boosting his walk rate and power in 120 Triple-A plate appearances, and now it's time to see what he can do in the show.
In our last Diamondbacks preview, we mentioned utility speedster Tony Campana in this space. Since then, the Snakes got tired of him not hitting the ball at all and optioned him to Triple-A on May 2. In his place is a man with a little more pop in his bat, Alfredo Marte. Like Inciarte, Marte is still young (he turned 25 on Opening Day), but he's also not considered a high-impact prospect. Back in 2012, Marte hit 20 home runs and recorded a .401 wOBA at Double-A Mobile, but he doesn't have another professional season with more than nine home runs. Even with just one round-tripper at Triple-A Reno in 2014, Marte was called up thanks to his .342/.409/.468 line and is looking to provide a spark off the bench for Arizona.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Chase Anderson vs. Bartolo Colon
Mike Bolsinger made his major league debut against the Mets back on April 14, but the two earned runs he allowed in three innings that day wasn't even his worst start of the season. The Diamondbacks have since sent Bolsinger down for seasoning and called up Anderson to take his place. Now two starts into his own big league career, Anderson had a terrific debut against the White Sox on May 11 (five-plus innings, one earned run) before getting lit for five runs in five-plus innings versus the Dodgers. Like seemingly everyone else in this preview, Anderson is not considered a top prospect, but he had torn up Double-A Mobile with 0.69 ERA in 39 innings prior to his promotion. It's worth noting that Anderson was probably at Mobile to get away from Reno, where he got touched up for a 5.73 ERA in 2013. Mobile has helped shrink his BABIP by over 100 points, but Anderson is also walking far fewer batters in 2014.
Anderson isn't the only pitcher who would tell you that where you pitch often affects how you pitch. Colon has been very effective in pitcher's park that are not in Anaheim this season, and that trend continued with his eight innings in Washington last Saturday. The big man keeps on rolling along (Nope, not making that joke), eating up innings (not happening), and making batters earn what they get. His 3.15 ERA at Citi Field this year shows how much he likes home cooking (!) and should give the Mets a good chance to start the weekend off right.
Saturday: Josh Collmenter vs. Zack Wheeler
Collmenter switched over from the bullpen to make his first start of 2014 against the Mets back on April 14. Unlike Bolsinger, though, the right-handed Collmenter has stuck around and been a somewhat reliable member of the Arizona rotation. Lately, he's struggled at bit with seven runs allowed in his last 10.1 innings, and a lot of that has to do with his strikeout rating dropping to 15 percent from the 22 percent it was in the bullpen last season. The good news for Collmenter is that his walk rate is also down, and his 39-percent ground ball rate should play better at Citi Field than at Phoenix's Chase Field. Sure enough, Collmenter's ERA in 2014 is 2.87 on the road compared to 4.60 at home.
Even though he's got a solid 52-percent ground ball rate, Wheeler could also benefit from pitching in Queens this weekend. His struggles this May have all come in four starts on the road. In three Citi Field starts, all on April 25 or earlier, he has put up stats worthy of the "quality start" label. Maybe Saturday is when the big righty starts to turn his season around.
Sunday: Bronson Arroyo vs. Rafael Montero
Arroyo's mastery over the Mets came to an abrupt halt on April 15 when the Amazins lit him up for nine runs and 10 hits in just three-and-one-third innings. Don't feel too bad for the high-kicking finesse artist, though. He's been pretty solid since that humbling affair. In three starts beginning on May 2, Arroyo pitched 23.1 innings with just one earned run allowed. That brilliant stretch was wrecked on Tuesday when the Cardinals scored five runs against him, but it's nice to see that Arroyo can still twirl a gem every once in a while. The veteran has been dealing with hitter's parks for his entire career, but it's interesting that this season his ground ball rate has spiked to 52 percent.
If Montero wants to have a career as long as Arroyo's, he's got to get his command figured out. Back in 2013 at Binghamton, Montero was walking just 3.8 percent of opposing batters. When he got promoted to Las Vegas, that figure jumped to 6.9 percent. In 2014, Montero started the season walking a whopping 10.6 percent of batters before his promotion. Now that he's in the majors, it isn't shocking that Montero has given free passes to six hitters in his first 10.1 innings. If he doesn't turn this around quickly, he should be back in the minors for development purposes.
What about some GIFs?
The last time the Mets played the Snakes, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was throwing his hat into the outfield ring. During a 9-0 win on April 15, he picked up a home run, three RBI, and this nifty catch.
With the Mets having the game well in hand, Keith got a bit... distracted.
During the series finale, Dillon Gee made a great play to tag out Gerardo Parra at second base.