The Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers are familiar opponents, facing each other 19 times in the regular season while competing in the NL West. They’ll meet for one last series starting on Friday as the Dodgers welcome the D-Backs to the City of Angels to kick off the NLDS.
Los Angeles stumbled down the stretch, but it regained form by winning eight of 10 and 12 of 18 to close out the regular season. These two teams know each other well and match up quite evenly despite the disparity in records.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Against Colorado in the NL Wild Card matchup, the Diamondbacks got out to an early six-run lead and had Zack Greinke on the mound. By all appearances, it looked like it was going to be any easy win for Arizona. That was not the case.
Instead, the Rockies offense got to Greinke, knocking him out of the game in the fourth inning. Without a bullpen as deep as the Yankees—who were able to use relievers to cover 8.2 innings the day before—manager Torey Lovullo was forced to go to No. 2 starter Robbie Ray to cover a number of innings. It worked, and the D-Backs advanced. But they’re now entering the series with the Dodgers having to go to a starter other than Greinke or Ray in Game 1.
It’s likely that Greinke and Ray will now get the ball when the series shifts to Chase Field in Games 3 and 4, leaving the road contests to the likes of Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley.
Whoever Lovullo chooses will have to pitch exceptionally well as he’ll be pitching opposite Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw’s postseason woes are well documented. He’s 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 playoff games. That’s concerning, but some of it is understandable. The southpaw hasn’t pitched badly in the postseason, but the Dodgers have often been forced to push him an extra inning given the lack of bullpen depth.
Looking deeper, Kershaw did have seven scoreless innings against the Cubs in the NLCS Game 2 last season. He’s had his share of strong outings, but there have been some clunkers in there.
Despite the lackluster postseason numbers, this is still one heck of a pitcher. Whether he’s struggled in the postseason or not, he went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA and 0.949 WHIP in the regular season. And, at the age of 29, he has already amassed 144 wins, pitching to a 2.36 career ERA and 1.002 career WHIP. To further exaggerate the point, Kershaw’s league-leading 2.31 ERA this year is his worst mark since 2012—when he also led the league. His 0.949 WHIP is also his worse mark since that same year.
Kershaw is a tough matchup, no doubt. But given that it’s the postseason, the D-Backs have a chance—even if he’s 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA against Arizona this year.
Walker seems to be the likely choice to go opposite Kershaw. He threw well against Los Angeles in early September, allowing one run in six innings of work.
The D-Backs will simply hope to steal one game in Los Angeles before returning home to have their aces on the mound. Game 1 may be a tough one, but Game 2 may be easier.
The Dodgers are going with Rich Hill in Game 2, pushing Yu Darvish to Game 3 and, likely, Alex Wood to Game 4.
The reason for Hill over Darvish is based on location and personal splits. Hill has had a difficult time at Chase Field over his career with an ERA north of 10. He’s a better pitcher at home and will get a chance in Los Angeles in Game 2.
In the end, Hill is a pitcher you can typically rely on for at least a quality start, and he was solid in six innings of work the last time he faced Arizona at home. That said, in four head-to-head meetings this year, Hill hasn’t made it through four innings in two of them—one at home.
Of the Walker-Corbin-Godley trio, one is likely to start in Game 2 as well. All three of those pitchers have worked to an ERA of 4.03 or better and a FIP of 4.08 or lower. Godley has the best ERA of the three, but since the All-Star break the other two have fared better and are likely to get the nod. Corbin has pitched to a 3.26 ERA in the second half, while Walker has recorded a 3.32 mark.
For the games in Arizona, Darvish and Wood will match up against Greinke and Ray.
Darvish has thrown the ball much better in his last three starts, allowing just one run in 19.1 innings. That’s great, but he did that against the Giants, Padres and Phillies. He lasted just five innings the last time he faced the Diamondbacks and allowed five runs in 4.1 innings the last time he faced any reputable offense of an above-.500 team.
Wood, meanwhile, is flaunting numbers built on a remarkable first half. His 16-3 record and 2.72 ERA are impressive, but he has been more human in the second half, going 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA. His strikeout rate since the break has also plummeted to 6.8 per nine innings.
Wood is a better pitcher on the road than at home, but Chase Field is hardly a pitcher-friendly place to throw. He’s pitched there twice in 2017, allowing six runs on 10.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Greinke is an ace. His performance on Wednesday was the worst of his postseason career. His outing was also the shortest of the year. He went 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA in the regular season, and he dominated the Dodgers in back-to-back starts on August 31 and September 5, allowing two combined runs in 13 innings.
For Ray, the lefty is a strikeout machine with 12.1 per nine innings. He went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 regular-season starts. He is prone to the walk, which typically prevents him from going more than six innings.
Like Greinke, Ray dominated the Dodgers in his last two starts, combining for 14.1 innings, allowing one run on seven hits and two walks while striking out 24.
Paul Goldschmidt was 0-for-17 coming into the postseason, but he put that slump behind him quickly with a three-run home run in the first inning against the Rockies.
The heart of the Diamondbacks order is especially scary. Goldschmidt hits in the No. 3 spot and went 2-for-5 on Wednesday. He’s followed by J.D. Martinez and Jake Lamb.
Martinez was hitless on Wednesday, but he ended the year hitting .302 with the Diamondbacks, slamming 29 home runs and recording 65 RBIs in just 62 games. Combined with what he did in Detroit, Martinez finished the season with 45 bombs and 104 RBIs in 119 games. He also combined for a .303/.376/.690 slash line.
Between Goldy and Martinez, it’s a pick-your-poison situation for the pitcher, but Lamb is no slouch, either. He ended the season with 30 homers, and while he cooled way down in the second half, he picked it up in the Wild Card game, going 4-for-5 with three runs scored.
In support of the big three in the middle, David Peralta and Ketel Marte provide speed at the top as table setters. They combined to go 6-for-10 on Wednesday. In the sixth spot, A.J. Pollock was a homer away from the cycle and is another dynamic, multi-faceted player.
The Dodgers have a deep lineup of their own. Los Angeles really took off this year when Cody Bellinger was promoted. He started 132 games and slammed 39 homers, driving in 97 and producing a .267/.352/.581 slash line. He, Corey Seager and Justin Turner are the big three for the Dodgers, but support players like Yasmani Grandal, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig and others fill out what is probably a deeper lineup than that of the Diamondbacks. Bellinger, Seager and company have slumped a bit down the stretch, though, which is a concern for Los Angeles.
Based on the overall numbers, the Diamondbacks had a better offensive season with 42 more runs scored, but the difference in team OPS was minimal: .774 to .771. When you consider the D-Backs play in a much more hitter-friendly environment at Chase Field, the gaps shrinks further between these teams.
The Dodgers bullpen ranked first in the NL in ERA at 3.38, while the Diamondbacks ranked second at 3.78. Both teams have solid ‘pens based on the numbers, but there are legitimate questions that both will need to contend with in this series and for whomever advances.
Los Angeles’ league-leading ‘pen ERA was built on arms like Pedro Baez and Luis Avilan, who won’t be on the roster due to a sore left shoulder. Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani will have to carry the load from the left side. As for Baez, his last four outings were okay, but before that he stumbled in September. His struggles were a significant part of the team’s collapse.
Manager Dave Roberts needs to bridge the gap from the starters to Kenley Jansen. There are options, but the confidence level across the board is way lower than it should be for a team that had the best bullpen ERA in the league.
On the other side, the Diamondbacks don’t have a lockdown closer like Jansen. If the Dodgers get the ball to him, the game is over. If Arizona gets the ball to Fernando Rodney, the rollercoaster continues. Rodney’s a veteran arm. He’s been there before, but he’s also not the guy he used to be. His 4.23 ERA tells part of the story. He still limits hits against him and still limits the homer, but he walks 4.2 per nine innings, getting himself in more trouble than Lovullo and company would like in the ninth. He typically gets the job done, but it’s not a guarantee.
One thing the D-backs do have that Los Angeles doesn’t is a lockdown set-up man that’s versatile enough to come in at any time a stop a rally. That’s Archie Bradley.
Bradley allowed a couple homers on Wednesday night after gassing himself running around the bases on his triple. He’s usually much more lights-out as evidence by his 1.73 ERA in 73 innings of work.
He could be a huge difference maker in this game. As long as Rodney does his job, Bradley could serve the Andrew Miller role for Arizona, and we all saw how valuable that was for Terry Francona and the Indians last year.
Quick Pick: Diamondbacks over Dodgers in Four
The Dodgers ended the regular season with the best record in baseball, finished 11 games ahead of the Diamondbacks and have probably the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw. Meanwhile Arizona burnt both Grienke and Ray in the Wild Card Game. Given that, it would appear to be an easy series for the Dodgers, but Arizona beat Los Angeles in each of their last six head-to-head meetings. Overall, the D-Backs won the season series 11-8, outscoring the Dodgers by 18 runs in those 19 games.
Sure, Los Angeles has the upper hand in Game 1 with Kershaw on the bump, but Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw in the postseason. The D-Backs are a balanced team and a bad matchup for Los Angeles. Look for Arizona to steal a game on the road. When the D-Backs return home, they’ll then have their aces lined up to take the series.