The Rockies are coming off a whirlwind series in Cincinnati to face the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-backs are currently sitting atop the NL West at 32-29 and just finished a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. This will be the first time these two teams have faced each other since Opening Weekend in March, in which the D-backs took two of three from the Rockies.
A lot has changed between then and now for these teams and throughout the division. Currently, the Diamondbacks are still leading the division but are only 4.5 games ahead of the last place San Diego Padres. The Giants and Dodgers are both 1.5 games out and tied for third place.
Here are some things to keep in mind during this huge series:
Both teams are trying to get back on track
The most notable thing about this series is how much of a whirlwind it has been for both teams over the first few months of the season. The Rockies have been playing fairly consistent baseball, going 15-15 through March and April and 15-11 in May. So far they are 2-4 in June after being swept by the Dodgers in three high scoring games and taking two of three from the Reds.
In the desert, the Diamondbacks had two polar opposite months. They started off the season with a red hot record of 20-8 — the best in the National League through that stretch. However, they hit a brick wall in May and finished that month with a reciprocal record of 8-19. So far in June they’re 4-2 and seem to be heating up once again.
Familiarity helps (or not)
Once again, this is a big divisional series between two teams who are quite familiar with each other. They even played an extra, high-pressure game against each other at the end of last year, so they have a little bit of extra knowledge. The big difference here is that both teams will be seeing pitchers that they haven’t seen so far this year. Germán Márquez and Zack Greinke faced each other during the last series, but the other four pitchers will be new, at least for this young season. The Diamondbacks will most likely be rolling out Matt Koch and Zack Godley, and the Rockies will most likely be putting Chad Bettis and Kyle Freeland on the bump on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
However, their rosters are fairly similar to that of Opening Day, so that should help some (hopefully). More on that below.
Very similar teams
Since it’s been 69 days since these teams have seen each other, you would assume there has been some shuffling of rosters just due to injuries, performance, etc. However, the rosters for the Rockies and D-Backs are relatively the same since Opening Day.
A noteworthy difference for the Diamondbacks is the loss of starting pitchers Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker to injuries. Ray has been on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain since the end of April and Walker underwent Tommy John surgery around the same time. They are also without center fielder AJ Pollock, who broke his thumb diving for a ball on in mid May. The most notable loss for the Rockies is the loss of star reliever Adam Ottavino, also to an oblique strain.
Other players have spent time on the DL, but have come back — Jake Lamb and Steven Souza Jr. for the D-Backs (although Souza is back on the DL again), and DJ LeMahieu and Chris Rusin for the Rockies.
Overall, these two teams are very similar. They both have fairly strong starting rotations and incredibly strong infields, but the bullpens sometimes leave something to be desired. They tend to have streaky offenses where they’re either hitting 10 runs per game or losing 2-1. Especially in May, for these teams it seemed like either the pitching OR the offense was on but not both on the same night. For both, it now seems like the offenses are recovering so hopefully the Rockies are able to take advantage.
What needs to happen
Right now, with these two teams as close as they are in the standings, the Rockies need to go 2-1 at the very least. The NL West will be tight like it was last year, but not for the same reason as last year — last year it was one of the best divisions in baseball, whereas this year it may be the worst.
With the division as tight as it is and other National League teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves playing well, the Rockies will have to make up as much ground as possible and probably win the division in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. They can do that most effectively by winning key divisional series like this one.
Friday, 6/8 - Germán Márquez vs. Zack Greinke
Saturday, 6/9 - Chad Bettis vs. Matt Koch
Sunday, 6/10 - Kyle Freeland vs. Zack Godley