Two of the hottest teams in the National League, the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, are set to face off in a three-game series starting Friday night at Phoenix.
The Rockies won five of six games in their just-concluded homestand against the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.
The Diamondbacks are riding a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, capping a 5-2 trip that included a four-game split against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Colorado pitching staff enters the series ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.56 ERA and 29th with an average of 6.96 strikeouts per nine innings, with the latter figure ahead of just Arizona’s 6.61.
Six Rockies pitchers combined to strike out just two on Thursday, but Colorado still emerged with a 9-7 win over the Nationals.
What is saving the Rockies’ pitchers are double plays. They have induced 36 ground-ball double plays, the best figure in the majors.
Colorado turned two key double plays Thursday, one behind reliever Jhoulys Chacin to quell a rally in the fifth inning and another behind reliever Robert Stephenson to limit Washington to two runs in the seventh.
“It’s a function of us having ground-ball pitchers, especially in the rotation,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “We know that we have to keep the ball down in this park (in Denver). Here, it’s a little dangerous to pitch up, unless you have a guy who consistently throws it in the right spot, where they will swing at it.
“We stress keeping the ball down in the zone, and defensively we have always stressed, even prior to me, the importance of defense in this ballpark.”
The Diamondbacks enter the weekend series still buzzing about the events of their sweep-clinching, 8-7 win over the Marlins on Wednesday. Arizona starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner was ejected after one inning following a hand check by umpire Dan Bellino for banned substances.
Bumgarner took exception that Bellino took a few seconds rubbing his hand and looking at his face instead of the hand. A comment by the left-hander prompted the ump to send him to the showers.
“I don’t know if I could say anything that would make the situation better,” Bumgarner said. “What I am going to say is I’m extremely proud of our team, coming back. Obviously, I didn’t go into the game with the intention of throwing one inning. Everyone picked me up today.”
The Diamondbacks, who relied on their bullpen for the win, have one of the best rotations in baseball with Bumgarner (1-1, 1.50 ERA), Zac Gallen (1-0, 1.27) and Merrill Kelly (2-1, 1.27) with ERAs under 2.00 in a combined 73 1/3 innings pitched.
Friday’s matchup between Kelly and fellow right-hander Chad Kuhl (3-0, 1.90) has the makings of a pitchers’ duel.
Kelly, making his sixth start of the season, is limiting opponents to a .208 batting average. However, he is just 1-3 with a 6.49 ERA in six career starts against the Rockies.
Kuhl’s lifetime numbers against the Diamondbacks are ugly, too: 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in three appearances (two starts).
Kuhl has won his past three starts, most recently limiting the Cincinnati Reds to three runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings during a 4-3 victory on Saturday.
–Field Level Media