Miami Marlins Series Preview: @ Arizona Diamondbacks

Remember when Wade Miley demolished the Marlins in April? Don't worry, he's been doing that to everyone this season. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Miami Marlins had a shot at taking out their basement-dwelling counterpart Colorado Rockies in a four-game set, but the Fish ended up splitting the series in a disappointing fourth game loss. Now the Marlins will travel south to Arizona to face the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team in the playoff hunt and looking to stay hot and keep up with the leaders in the NL West. The Fish and Diamondbacks will battle in a four-game set, including an extremely odd Wednesday doubleheader that will have some rotation implications for the Marlins this series.

Tale of the Tape

Marlins Stat (Rank) Diamondbacks
.301 (25) wOBA .323 (6)
85 (28) wRC+ 96 (T-16)
4.12 (19) ERA 3.90 (12)
3.86 (T-11) FIP 3.84 (10)

The Arizona Diamondbacks are pretty good. Their offense is also inflated by Chase Field, which is the second friendliest stadium for hitters in baseball. Still, their pitching staff has also helped to carry this team, especially given how poor their bullpen was just a few seasons ago. The Diamondbacks have recovered their pitching corps in short order, in part with acquisitions like Trevor Cahill and surprises like Wade Miley.

Stadium: Chase Field

Area Dimensions (ft)
Left Field 330
Left-Center 374
Center Field 407
Right-Center 374
Right Field 334

Five-Year Run PF*: 1.05
Five-Year Home Run PF*: 1.03

*Denotes five-year regressed park factors as calculated by Patriot here

Chase Field does not seem like it would be hitter friendly, as the dimensions seem pretty normal. But the park actually sits in the second highest altitude among baseball parks, and hearing that suddenly makes the park's hitter-friendly atmosphere make more sense. Combine that with dry air and deep left and right field power alleys (both 413 feet in their deepest area) and you get a park that does a pretty good job of getting runs to come around.

Series Preview

To preview this series, I sent five questions over to Jim McLennan of the SB Nation Diamonbacks blog AZ Snake Pit. He was gracious enough to answer those questions and send some of his own. Here are some of the things Jim and I discussed for this upcoming series.

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1) Last season, everyone thought it was the return and revitalization of Justin Upton's path to stardom. His strikeout rates were down and he was hitting like he did in 2009. What happened in 2012?

The batting average isn't all that far off career norms (.268 vs. 276). What HAS happened, is an almost complete evaporation of Upton's power. I mean, his slugging percentage this year is below Willie Bloomquist's. Let me repeat that: below Willie Bloomquist's. He has two home-runs in his past 170 at-bats. If I'd to guess, I would wonder if a thumb injury suffered early in the season - he jammed it sliding into second-base - was responsible. While it didn't require a DL stint, it is notable that he still wears a lot of protection on it when running the bases, which suggests perhaps that it never fully healed.

However, the other thing is that his strikeout looking percentage has ballooned up to 40%, compared to a previous career average of 29%. That'd odd, because his overall strike looking percentage is right there in line, at 28%; it seems almost that Upton loses sight of the zone with two strikes on him. What the reason is for that, I've no idea.

2) Would you be amicable to a Justin Upton trade in the offseason? What kind of return would be expected?

I think I'd be amicable to it, providing the returns were appropriate for his potential, rather than his 2012 numbers. As we saw last year, he can be an MVP, and that level of possible performance shouldn't come cheap. The outfield is an area where the Diamondbacks have a fair amount of depth, so if dealing Upton allows the team to address positions of weakness, then it's something to be considered. But there is no need to sell Upton. If he stays, I'm fine with that.

As for those areas of need, shortstop would be the most obvious. Stephen Drew's contract is up after this season - though there's a team option, at $10 million it's pretty expensive, especially as Drew hasn't been all that productive since returning from the ankle injury which sidelined him for a year, hitting just .193. The Diamondbacks don't have many prospects in their farm system, so it's somewhere the team will likely look to find an external replacement, probably with a trade of some kind.

3) On the other hand, the Diamondbacks took a chance on Aaron Hill, and it seems he is back in All-Star form. What has gone right this year for him?

No kidding - since he came to Arizona last August, Robinson Cano is the only 2B with a higher OPS than Hill. Aaron himself seems pretty baffled by the surge, recently saying "I don’t have an answer for you, but it’s been a fun experience for me. Whether it’s the clubhouse, the coaching or whatever, I don’t know. But personally it’s been a blast." I think he may simply have been allowed to return to playing his natural game.

By that, I mean: over his first four seasons he averaged only 10 home-runs per 162 games, but batted .284. Then, in 2009, he exploded for 36 home-runs and I think he spent the rest of his time in Toronto trying to match that. It didn't work: he hit .213. Here in Arizona, there are other players to do the heavy slugging, and Hill can go back to getting on base, letting the power come naturally, as it may. That's got to be a lot less pressure on a player.

4) Who is Wade Miley and why has he been dominating hitters all season?

Miley barely made it onto the roster. He was literally the last man there, squeaking on just before Opening Day, when Takashi Saito hit the DL. That was as a reliever: he was called in to the rotation only because of Josh Collmenter's ineffectiveness, but went 8.3 with a 2.09 ERA in his first dozen starts, and hasn't looked back, being Arizona's sole representative in this year's All-Star Game (Hill and Paul Goldschmidt being unfairly overlooked, if I may say so). Wade's a good ol' country boy, whose stories include the time he and a friend decapitated a deer with a box-cutter.

He's basically a two-pitch pitcher, with a two-seam fastball and slider. He likes to throw the former down and away to right-handers, and has been hitting his spot with relentless precision - his high for the season is two walks in an outing. His slider keeps getting misidentified by pitch f/X as a curve, but is a nasty out pitch, responsible for a lot of Miley's strikeouts. He took to throwing it harder after a suggestion from team-mate Goldschmidt earlier this season, and the result have been excellent. Right now, Miley is probably the consensus pick for Rookie of the Year. Bryce who?

5) The Diamondbacks are within striking distance of the NL West and the Wild Card spots. Look into the crystal ball: where do you see the Diamondbacks in October?

I think it's going to be close. The Diamondbacks have the best run differential in the division, and if their record in one-run games had been even .500, rather than the actual 9-17, they'd be right there with the leaders. They have winning records against both the Giants and Dodgers thus far - they've owned the latter, going 8-4 - and with 15 games remaining against them, the Diamondbacks' fate is likely in their own hands. It won't be easy, and I think the pack of teams chasing the wild card means their best hope is likely the NL West. But if they can play up to their potential, it's going to be a very interesting last seven weeks.

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I want to thank Jim for answering those questions and sending some of his own for me to respond. Here is a preview of what you can see from his piece.

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1) The Marlins started off well enough, being tied for the NL East lead on June 3. But they've gone 24-44 since. What happened?

Despite the hot month of May, all of the Marlins' bats with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Reyes cooled off by the start of June, and the team went back to doing the same thing it did in April: underachieving expectations. Five out of eight starting position players hit well below their expectations, and the total they ended up costing the Marlins was upwards of 50 runs by June's end.

Because the Marlins failed to remain competitive in July, they made a number of trades and moved two starting position players. Then a series of injuries further befell the team, lending credence to the idea that "when it rains, it pours." In short, underachieving expectations, injuries, and trades have really wrecked the Marlins' 2012 season.

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Check out more on this series over at AZ Snake Pit. Thanks again, Jim, and good luck to all in the series!

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