Despite the Dodgers holding the best record in baseball, they have a tough matchup with the surging Diamondbacks.
Following their wild 11-8 win over the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks bought themselves a NLDS date with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who concluded the season with the best record in baseball at 104-58.
Despite the Dodgers’ dominance during the regular season, particularly during the first half, they should be concerned about drawing a matchup with the Diamondbacks. A look at their head-to-head matchups this year actually show that the Diamondbacks have had the upper hand:
ESPN Stats & Information
However, the postseason is a different ballgame, and both teams enter the NLDS with a strong chance to make it to the World Series. This series has the makings of a classic with feared sluggers (Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Paul Goldschmidt, and J.D. Martinez) and ace-like pitchers (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) on both teams.
There are a few interesting storylines to keep an eye on at the start of the series.
Clayton Kershaw’s Contributions
The Dodgers’ ace gets the ball in Game 1 as expected. The Diamondbacks hitters have struggled against Kershaw who’s pitched a 0.59 ERA against them this season. He has also acquired 19 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings pitched. In particular, Kershaw has seen much success with his off-speed pitches when there is a two-strike count. Expect to see Kershaw resort to his most effective breaking pitch often: his curveball.
The Diamondbacks are going to have to be careful when faced with a Kershaw curveball. As the chart shows, his curveball is virtually unhittable down in the strike zone. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how many times Kershaw goes to his curve over the course of his start.
The Dodgers’ Pitching Strategy
Along with Kershaw, fellow Dodger starters Alex Wood and Yu Darvish have dominated the Diamondbacks this year. The three of them combined have a 6-0 record and a 1.96 ERA against Arizona. Manager Dave Roberts made the decision to start Rich Hill, not Alex Wood, in Game 2, which I found to be an interesting move. However, in Roberts’ defense, Hill has pitched much better at home (2.77 ERA) than on the road (4.06) this year.
Manager Dave Roberts, instead, elected to have Alex Wood pitch Game 4 if necessary. Wood has seen success against the Diamondbacks this year, going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA, throwing 23 strikeouts and allowing only four walks in 21 innings.
Does Jake Lamb Get Benched?
This is a major decision manager Torey Lovullo must make. Despite having an All-Star year, Jake Lamb has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching this season. Although his final batting line of .248/.357/.487 reveals that he should continue starting at third, his .146 batting average against lefties should give Lovullo some pause.
In all likelihood, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may have three left-handed starters in the NLDS (Alex Wood and Rich Hill being the two other than Kershaw). Instead, Lovullo may install utility man Adam Rosales to man third against left-handed pitching. Although Rosales’ overall statistics are not better than Lamb’s, and he does not offer much upside with the bat, he sports a .244 batting average against lefties, which is significantly better than Lamb’s.
Lamb did go 4-for-5 against the Rockies in the Wild Card game, so it may be hard for Lovullo to sit him. However, it’s a possibility not only for Game 1 but also for the series.
The Huge Home Run Difference
In all of their meetings this year, the Diamondbacks out-homered the Dodgers 32-18, which is a significant margin. Nine of the 13 home runs the D-backs hit at Dodger Stadium came off of relievers, which is another reason why the Dodgers’ starting pitching needs to last longer than usual. The Diamondbacks will be well-served if they can clobber the Dodgers bullpen early.
One interesting statistic to note: Justin Turner and Chris Taylor lead the Dodgers in home runs against the Diamondbacks this year with three. J.D. Martinez, whom the Diamondbacks acquired at the Trade Deadline, hit four off the Dodgers in one game:
Robbie Ray Or Zack Greinke For Game 2
Although it has not been confirmed as of yet, it is likely Torey Lovullo will start Robbie Ray in Game 2, which is the right call. Despite Greinke only throwing 58 pitches against the Rockies, there is no need for Lovullo to get Greinke out there as soon as possible. Robbie Ray has been dominant against the Dodgers this season, pitching to a 3-0 record with a 2.27 ERA against them in five starts. Their struggles against Ray are highlighted by their star shortstop Corey Seager, who has faced Ray six times this year and has struck out all six times.
Ray can get the job done for the Diamondbacks and as of late has pitched better than Greinke. So this may be addition by subtraction for the club.
This series, as stated earlier, has the makings of a thrilling classic. Both teams are equipped with strong, high-powered offenses and talented pitching staffs. Like the Wild Card round, I expect this series to be back and forth, highly competitive and feature high run outputs. Look for both teams to beat up on each other early and often.
As a result of this expectation, look for a potential upset here. Both teams are deep in both their pitching and position players and both have a great chance at representing the National League in the World Series. The Diamondbacks sluggers match up well with the Dodgers starters.
Diamondbacks in 5.
(All data has been retrieved from ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, or FanGraphs.com, unless stated otherwise)
Edited by Brian Kang.
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