The Diamondbacks and Giants do not often meet in such position, with the D-backs atop the NL West and the defending World Series champions near the bottom.
As the second half begins, the D-backs will be looking to build on a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL West while the Giants will be trying to find a way out of a 6 1/2-game hole dug by a 10-22 record since the last time the two teams met.
The Diamondbacks have not been without issues since the two teams met in early June — when the Giants were 2 1/2 games out of first place and the surging Dodgers sat in the basement of the NL West. The D-backs’ bullpen has been as inconsistent as they come, and the starting rotation has struggled to remain consistent. The Giants, though, have been inexplicably bad over the past month, largely due to a shaky starting rotation of their own.
With both teams trying to settle one pitching problem or another, here’s a look at what to expect in the three-game series that starts Friday night:
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Friday — RHP Ian Kennedy (3-6, 5.42 ERA) vs. Chad Gaudin (3-1, 2.39). Saturday — LHP Wade Miley (6-7, 4.01) vs. RHP Matt Cain (5-6, 5.06). Sunday — RHP Randall Delgado (1-3, 3.92) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.02).
WHO’S HOT FOR THE D-BACKS: Third baseman Martin Prado has been heating up since late June after a disappointing start. Seemingly a bit more relaxed, Prado is hitting .314 with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI since June 25. … Saturday starter Wade Miley has looked the last month and a half like the pitcher who dazzled in 2012. Over his last eight starts, Miley is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA. He pitched at least six innings in all but one of those starts and did not allow more than three runs in any of them. … All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, batting .400 (16 for 40) with eight RBI, five doubles and a home run in that span.
WHO’S NOT: Shortstop Didi Gregorius has noticeably cooled since his red-hot start. Over his last 13 games, Gregorius is batting .189 (7 for 37) with just one extra-base hit and two RBI, both coming on a home run against the Brewers last week. … Friday starter Ian Kennedy called his first half “terrible,” and his numbers reflect it. Kennedy went 3-6 with a 5.42 ERA, the second-worst ERA among qualified NL pitchers. He hasn’t won a game since June 1, and over his last two starts he’s 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA. The D-backs are 7-11 in games Kennedy has started. … Center fielder A.J. Pollock is batting .206 (7 for 34) in July with no RBI, though five of his seven hits in the month have been for extra bases.
WHO’S HOT FOR THE GIANTS: Sunday starter Madison Bumgarner has not allowed three or more earned runs in a start since June 8. In his six starts since then, Bumgarner has gone 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA and pitched seven innings in each of those outings. … Catcher Buster Posey got off to a slow start in July but since July 8 is batting .483 (14 for 29) with eight RBI, four doubles and a home run. In the previous six July games, Posey was 2 for 18 (.111) with no RBI and no extra-base hits. … Over his last six games, third baseman Pablo Sandoval has gone 8 for 21 (.381) with five RBI, a home run and four doubles.
WHO’S NOT: Outfielder Hunter Pence, one of the five players who was part of the All-Star Game “Final Vote,” had a rough first half of July. In 13 games this month, Pence is batting .130 (7 for 54) with six RBI, five of which came in the same game last Saturday. Pence does have hits in five of seven games after starting the month 0 for 22 over six games. … Saturday starter Matt Cain is coming off the shortest start of his career, when he went 2/3 of an inning and gave up three runs on two hits. Over his past two starts, Cain is 0-2 with a 33.00 ERA.
NOTES, QUOTES, ODDS AND ENDS: The D-backs enter the second half with their bullpen still a bit unsettled, though this series could shine a light on what the team plans to do going forward. Brad Ziegler closed two games and David Hernandez closed one in the final series of the first half, but there could be more change in store as the D-backs try to solidify bullpen roles. … Injured starter Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) is set to throw a bullpen session at Salt River Fields on Friday. If all goes well, he will join Triple-A Reno for a rehab assignment shortly afterward, likely needing two starts before he could rejoin the rotation. … Bumgarner has been the Giants’ best pitcher lately, excepting Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter last Saturday. From June 23-July 11, a span of 17 games, the Giants only won three times, all Bumgarner starts. In fact, from June 14- July 12, Bumgarner was the only Giants starter to register a win. … Friday starter Chad Gaudin is pitching like he wants to remain in the Giants’ rotation. In six starts since joining the rotation out of the bullpen, Gaudin is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He’s given up more than two runs in just one of those games.