Today brings the Dodgers to town, for a three-game set against Arizona. This could go a long way to setting the early momentum in the season, between two teams generally predicted to fight for the division title. Neither has quite set the grass aflame with their early results: the Diamondbacks dropped two out of three versus the Rockies, while the Dodgers split a four-game set against the Padres, near-universal picks for cellar dwellers in the NL West. Both will be looking to make a strong statement against their potential rivals, as they don't meet again this month.
Helped no doubt by Petco, the Padres did a fine job of restraining the Dodgers offense, expected to be among the most potent in the league. They scored only 14 runs in the four games, with Mandy going 3-for-14 in the opening series. The slack was taken up by James Loney and Matt Kemp, who both had six hits. Orlando Hudson had five, and also stole three bases, but despite his lead-off triple, was stranded on third in the ninth inning of last night's game, representing the tying run. This was perhaps the crucial problem for the Dodgers, who racked up 29 at-bats with men in scoring position, and managed only six hits.
The Dodgers pitching was even more stingy with the runs, and San Diego scored a mere eleven times. This was thanks particularly to the bullpen, which threw eleven scoreless innings before an eighth-inning meltdown on Thursday, coughing up three runs and the lead to the Padres. The Los Angeles pitching staff hasn't exactly gone deep into game, averaging 5.5 innings per start, but with a 3.27 ERA, have been getting the job done. As an aside, I note that Tuesday's game - an evening one - saw barely twenty thousand at Petco to see the reigning NL West champions. Though attendance was better on Wednesday and Thursday, it does seem attendance woes may not be confined to Arizona. Ignoring Opening Day, the series drew an average of 27,148 - almost ten percent down on the Padres average last year. We'll have a better handle on this after the first weekend, I suspect.
I'm going to hold off on doing anything detailed for the pitching match-ups, and include those in the Gameday Threads before each game. But the loss of Brandon Webb for Saturday has certainly helped the Dodgers chances. A lot will hinge on how Jon Garland pitches this evening and how we handle a pitcher making his first major-league start. This could well prove the deciding game in the series, since the advantage in pitching clearly belongs to Los Angeles on Saturday, while it is almost as clearly skewed towards Arizona for Sunday's contest. Momentum-wise, tonight is certainly significant: if the D-backs sink to 1-3 while the Dodgers go back above .500, it's a different scenario entirely from us being back even, while Los Angeles gets a losing record.
Taming Ramirez is, of course, probably the most crucial factor, and it's something at which Arizona failed abjectly last season. Melvin said, "We have some ideas of things that we've got to do a little bit differently. I think for the most part we didn't make our pitches on him last year. He hit some good pitches; he hit some bad pitches. We weren't the only team he hit, either. I think everybody has to look at pitching him a little bit differently, or at times maybe pitching around him more. We'll see how he's swinging when he gets here." Obviously, with the line-up Los Angeles has, pitching around him becomes harder, but San Diego did show it's possible to restrict his output. Again, tonight's contest will go a long way towards setting the tone for the season.
Finally, here's some audio clips, courtesy of KTAR. Firstly, Steve Gilbert discusses the situation with Webb, and goes into more detail about the insurance situation. Then Orlando Hudson talks about becoming a Dodger Dawg - interestingly, he flat-out denies that he was ever made a long-term contract offer by the Diamondbacks, as had been reported. Finally, president Derrick Hall talks about the front-office view, but I didn't get a chance to listen to that story, so I'll leave whatever he may say as a surprise. Gameday Thread to follow around 5pm.
Audio courtesy of KTAR 620