For the first time since mid-May, the Brewers are coming off a series win against someone other than the Pittsburgh Pirates. The series win against NL East-leading Atlanta was much-needed in a lot of ways, not the least of which was to prove to themselves they could hang with -- and beat -- playoff contenders.
The next test comes this weekend in Arizona. While the series win over Atlanta was important in snapping out of a funk and showing they could hang with the NL’s best, this series is just as -- if not more -- important.
The Diamondbacks aren’t nearly as good of a team as the Braves, but they’re one of the many teams the Brewers are trying to beat out for a playoff spot in a tightly-contested wildcard race. The Brewers currently hold that second wildcard spot, but Arizona is just a half-game behind them. This weekend would go a long way in creating some separation in the wildcard race -- or even pushing the Diamondbacks to sell at the trade deadline.
Arizona comes into this series just 2 games over .500, but largely hurt by a bad month of May in which they went 11-17. They’ve been above .500 in every other month, but have struggled in close games, going just 13-19 in one-run contests and 24-9 in games decided by 5 runs or more (the Brewers, meanwhile, are 15-10 in one-run games and 10-13 in blowouts).
After being criticized for the return they accepted from the St. Louis Cardinals for Paul Goldschmidt, the MLB-ready players they acquired have turned out to be solid contributors. Luke Weaver had a 3.03 ERA in 11 starts with 68 strikeouts and only 14 walks in 62.1 innings before landing on the Injured List, while catcher Carson Kelly is thriving with his playing time, hitting .272/.357/.533 with 11 home runs and 15 doubles in 184 at-bats.
Ketel Marte is taking full advantage of the juiced ball and the prime hitting conditions in the desert, becoming an All-Star for the first time by hitting .313/.365/.569 with 21 home runs and 22 doubles and 5 triples. Eduardo Escobar has also hit 21 home runs at third base, putting up a 125 OPS+
Thursday, July 18th - 8:40 p.m. CDT
Zach Davies vs. Merrill Kelly
A 30-year-old rookie after spending the past four years in South Korea, Kelly has been a solid mid-rotation arm this year. He doesn’t strike out many batters by today’s standards (he comes into the series striking out just 7 per 9 innings), but he’s managed to keep his ERA under 4 while pitching in Arizona and has a 114 ERA+. He’ll mix in a cutter with his low-90s fastball and 80 mph curve.
Friday, July 19th - 8:40 p.m. CDT
Jhoulys Chacin vs. Taylor Clarke
A 26-year-old rookie, Clarke is coming off the IL to make his first start since July 2nd. He comes into this start with a 6.21 ERA in 10 appearances (9 starts), although that number is inflated by a pair of bad outings that saw him give up 6 runs in 3 innings against the Giants on June 21st and 5 runs in 2 innings at Coors Field on May 30th. He’s given up 10 home runs in 42 innings this year.
Saturday, July 20th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Gio Gonzalez vs. Zack Greinke
Our old friend refuses to age. Now 35, Greinke has a 2.95 ERA in 20 starts, with 114 strikeouts in 128 innings. While he may no longer be a flamethrower, he’s still not walking anyone, with just 16 free passes on the season.
Sunday, July 21st - 3:10 p.m. CDT
Brandon Woodruff vs. TBD
This has yet to be announced, but likely will be rookie lefty Alex Young, who’s only allowed 2 runs in his first 18.2 innings, including throwing 6 no-hit innings in his start against the Rockies on July 7th. He followed that up by holding the Rangesr to 1 run on a solo homer in 5.1 innings, one of only 3 hits he allowed.
Player to Watch
The Diamondbacks signed Ketel Marte to a 5-year, $24 million extension last spring, back when he was a young utility player that hadn’t quite broken out yet. He’s earned nearly every dollar of that extension this year alone.
After putting up a .260/.332/.437 line with 14 home runs, 26 doubles, and a league-leading 12 triples in his first full season last year, he’s exploded this year. He’s nearly topped that doubles total already, has easily surpassed that home run total, and could end up doubling his fWAR from last season, racking up 4.1 fWAR already this year after ending last year at 2.5 fWAR.
This all comes as he’s listed at 6’1” and 165 pounds, showing you don’t have to be big to hit the ball with authority. He’s cut his soft contact rate from 20.9% last year to 12.9% this year, and virtually applying all of that to his hard-hit rate, which has jumped from 36% to 43.4% this year. He hasn’t even had to sell out for that added power, as his strikeout rate is exactly the same it was last year.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs