The San Francisco Giants have not lost a four-game series in Arizona since that fateful season-opening series in 2017. Now that I’ve established the jinx, let’s move on to the slightly more interesting but just as superstitious part of this series preview.
I’m fascinated by the history of the Giants playing a four-game series at Chase Field. I’ve written about this before on this very site, and it’s all because most of them seemed — to me — to represent turning points or confirmation points in most seasons. Look, here’s a table:
4-game series at Chase Field results for Giants, all-time
|SFG W-L||Season||W||L||AZ W-L|
|SFG W-L||Season||W||L||AZ W-L|
There’s no real pattern here. The Giants have swept and been swept when they’ve been good and bad. There’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it, but for the most part, the Giants have done very well in these four game sets: 8 wins, 3 losses, 3 ties.
However, that 2001 series — which absolutely forms the basis of my fascination — became wins 2 through 5 in what wound up being a 9-game winning streak that vaulted the Giants all the way back into the division race. They’d even go 38-23 the rest of the way — until they lost two out of three to the Dodgers in the final weekend. Fun stuff for Bonds reasons, but not for the playoffs!
I think the rest of the 2000s shows that these series helped confirm where the Giants were at the time. For instance, the 2004 series featured bad bullpenning, which would be the team’s undoing when they lost two out of three to the Dodgers in the final weekend. Now let us never speak of the final weekend in 2004 again.
But jump ahead to 2010 and the Giants were trying to keep up with the Padres who were four games ahead of them in the division as San Francisco went to Arizona. The Giants’ sweep got them just one game closer, but it also kickstarted a 14-7 run that got the Giants as close as one game back.
In 2014, it got the season off to a nice start to wash away the disappointment that was 2013. In 2016, it was not only a revenge sweep (the Dbacks had swept the Giants in San Francisco a little less than a month earlier), it was wins 2 through 5 in what wound up being an 8-game winning streak that pushed the Giants to the front of the division by 3.5 games. That streak was part of a 40-15 run into the All-Star Break where the 2016 season ended abruptly for reasons unknown. There’s absolutely no reason to discuss the rest of that season.
The Giants begin an important four-game series in Arizona tonight and it’s safe to say that it’s an early season litmus test. This morning, I spent 1,000 or so words talking about how the Giants may or may not be playing exactly to their internal projections and how the end result is a team that’s not very good.
The Giants knew they weren’t going to be the best team in the division. Everybody in Baseball knew it, too. It was the Dodgers, then the Padres, and then maybe the Giants as the third best in the division, except... what about the Diamondbacks?
They were the trendy pick in the offseason and in the early going of this season, they’ve held to that dark horse status. They’re one of only six teams in the NL to have a positive run differential, they’ve scored the third-most runs in the National League, and they’ve struck out the third-fewest times by strikeout rate (20.3% — only the Mets and Nationals have been better); but they’re not invincible. Their pitching isn’t a strength (0.0 fWAR from the bullpen, 2.7 fWAR from the rotation — just edging out the Giants at 2.6) and it’s largely thanks to Zac Gallen (2.4 fWAR) and Merrill Kelly (0.8) that it registers with positive value at all. That could be a good thing for the Giants’ lineup.
That said, the Diamondbacks’ lineup is right behind the Giants (6.4) with 6.2 fWAR, and it’s a bit more dynamic: the best batting average (.270) in the NL, 3rd in the NL in doubles (75), 1st in the NL in triples (9), and 3rd in the NL in stolen bases (31). Their average batter age is 27.3 to the Giants’ 29.1.
The Giants don’t really match up well against this team, so it’s all going to come down to the voodoo of this weird four-game series history.
Three Diamondbacks to watch
Evan Longoria: I could really pick out anybody from Arizona’s lineup and tell you to watch them, as in WATCH OUT for them — Lourdes Gurriel, Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, Alek Thomas because he’s started the season in a slump, Josh Rojas because he’s already gotten a lot of at bats against Alex Cobb, Logan Webb, Jakob Junis, and Anthony DeSclafani and done sorta okay against them all — but I’m going with Longoria as a matter of revenge.
The Giants paid him a lot of money to go away. They did that because they didn’t want to pay even more for what would amount to hitting production they could get at third base from a combination of J.D. Davis, David Villar, and Wilmer Flores (in a pinch). Remarkably, through nearly the first quarter of the season, FanGraphs has the move at about a wash: 1.2 fWAR. I think we all know by the eye test that the Giants made the right move, but Longoria will have spots in the next four games to hurt his former team.
Corbin Carroll: I just want to see what a 22-year old who signed an 8-year, $111 million extension in the offseason can do. It’s going to be a long time before the Giants have a prospect like him. In 35 games so far this season, Carroll’s batting .294/.364/.513 with 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts. His Statcast box is 73% of a red alert.
He’s very good, young, and exciting. The exact sort of player Giants fans don’t like to see play well against their elderly squad.
Brandon Pfaadt: He’s the guy the Diamondbacks called up to replace Madison Bumgarner after he was designated for assignment. He’s also their #3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He has a 12.10 ERA in two starts (9.2 IP) and 6 of the 16 hits he’s allowed so far this season have been home runs; and yet, ZiPS projected him to be **the second best starter on the Diamondbacks roster** with a 2.8 fWAR projection.
My set of algorithms has always had a love affair with Zac Gallen, so him having a terrific season featuring an impressive scoreless-innings streak wasn’t going to end that particular romance. A number of Diamondbacks starting pitchers get really solid projections: Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, and especially Brandon Pfaadt. He [Pfaadt], like Carroll, is going to be very high on that ZiPS prospect list; his 10 starts in Reno were absolutely mind-blowing in context.
(If you don’t follow the minors regularly, one thing you may have missed is that offense has exploded there the last few years to the degree that it has [disappeared] in the majors. The Pacific Coast League just had its best offensive season since the early 1980s with a league ERA of 5.40 and nearly six runs scored per game. To survive and thrive in a hitters’ park in that league is a feat.)
To Dan’s point from December, Pfaadt (pronounced FOUGHT) had a 3.83 ERA in 167 MiLB innings last season with a 1.156 WHIP and 1.8 walks per 9 innings. In five Triple-A starts this season, he had a 3.91 ERA in 25.1 IP with a 1.184 WHIP and 2.1 BB/9. Consistent!
The Diamondbacks’ rotation is a bit of a mess outside of Zac Gallen, Saturday’s starter. I would really hate to see Brandon Pfaadt suddenly find his form against the Giants, and as confident as I am in the team mashing four-seam fastballs (his featured pitch which averages 93.3 mph), I’m less confident in their success against the likes of a sweeper and changeup.
Three Giants to watch
Alex Cobb: For one thing, he’s the only starter the Giants have announced for this series at the time of this post going up. For another thing, and perhaps most importantly, he’s the Giants’ best starting pitcher right now. It’ll be a little bit like DeSclafani versus the Diamondbacks this past week; as the game one starter, how his start goes could very well determine the tone of the series. They’re not a great matchup for him — in five starts last season, Cobb had a 5.14 ERA in 28 IP — but if he continues to pitch as well as he has, then he’ll be a bad matchup for them.
Michael Conforto: Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow tried to talk up Michael Conforto’s impressive home run yesterday as something he and the Giants could take with them to Arizona. Maybe it’s the start of a hot streak for the very cold Conforto. I feel that he has a lot more work to do before feeling like this is a possibility — behold, his Statcast box:
— but it’s not impossible to imagine them being right. I don’t have to take drugs or anything to get there. The Diamondbacks’ pitching is not great and Chase Field is a great incubator for hitters even with the humidor. Three of his six career hits there are home runs, after all (the rest of his line: 6-for40, three home runs, two doubles, 13 strikeouts, 5 walks).
The Giants reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally need him to get it going, though, and if he doesn’t get it going here it might be tough to imagine how they leave Arizona on a high note.
Brandon Crawford: He’s likely off the IL for game one of this series and we should all hope that he comes back stronger and able to play at least an average shortstop and give at least an average effort at the plate. That’s a fast infield to play on so a good test of where his body is and next to Coors Field (.788 OPS), it’s the NL West park he’s done the most damage in (.735).
Giants @ Diamondbacks - How will it go?
This poll is closed
Dbacks win, 3-1
Giants win, 3-1