Some time around the end of May, when the Diamondbacks fell 11.5 games behind the Dodgers, the rhetoric surrounding the team began to change. Cries of "we can catch the Dodgers and Giants, we just need to play better" transformed into something a little more subtle. Comments about the D-Backs contending for the playoffs began to be prefaced by, "if they can hang around" or "if they're five or so games back by the end of July." The theme was clear: the Diamondbacks couldn't catch the teams ahead of them overnight, so they just had to play as well as possible, and put themselves in a position to take the lead later on.
It's almost August, which means it's decidedly not early anymore. The Diamondbacks have ostensibly done what they set out to do, and they sit 4.5 games out of first place with two months left in the season. They've kept their season meaningful, which is nice for everyone, but at some point putting themselves in position ceases to be good enough. At some point, they're have to do some damage against the teams in front of them.
I guess what I'm getting at is that this series is somewhat important.
I tend to be a little dubious of team's "momentum" in baseball, but the Dodgers have the look of a team emerging from the baseball wilderness. Remember right before the break, when the Dodgers were busy or something, so they sent the Albuquerque Isotopes to Phoenix instead? Yeah, those days are gone. They have their two best players back, and they added another one just for funzies. Oh, and they just swept their hated rivals in their own fog-addled house of torment and tied them for the division lead. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
In the last preview, I wrote about how little power the Dodgers' offense has had this year, and we all had a good laugh at their expense. It's all still true from a statistical perspective, but it rings a bit hollow with Kemp, Ethier and Ramirez on the team.
The Dodgers have spent most of the season with the second-lowest team ERA in baseball (the Reds recently knocked them into third place) despite having a rotation that is best described as "Clayton Kershaw plus a bunch of dudes who either are Aaron Harang or who look an awful lot like Aaron Harang." And this performance has been the most puzzling part of the Dodgers' success for me. They've cheated Count FIPula a little this year, but not a whole lot. Their only full-time starter with a FIP above 4 was Nathan Eovaldi, and he's taken his inflated defense-independent statistics to South Beach.
- Jerry Hairston has been around since 1998. Did you notice? Did anyone notice? Personally, I've always only been semi-aware that Jerry Hairston is an independent entity. He's an annoying utility player who is in no other way noticeably different from his brother Scott. I'm not saying they're the same person, but I've certainly never seen both in the same place...
- In fourteen games since returning from injury, Matt Kemp has an OPS of .888. Now, that's still pretty fantastic, but it's not quite up to the standard of his numbers before the injury, which weren't so much "pretty fantastic," as they were "the product of an extremely pissed-off deity." Still, Chris Young should be taking notes on how to respond to an injury.
- Remember when Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu were splitting time in the three hole? Is it weird to be nostalgic about three weeks ago?
- In a way, I'm happy Hanley Ramirez is a Dodger. I mean, not from a baseball perspective, since he's an unambiguous upgrade for the Dodgers' infield. But he's always seemed like kind of a jerk, and now that he's a Dodger, I don't have to feel bad about hating him. Thanks for getting this done, LA, and thanks for giving up a large chunk of your payroll and Eovaldi for the pleasure.
- (And yes, we're just going to ignore that he has an OPS of 1.224 so far for the Dodgers. Tiny sample size for now, so yep, just going to ignore that for as long as possible.)
Monday: Trevor Cahill (8-9, 3.86) vs. Aaron Harang (7-5, 3.39)
Insightful Commentary: I've been thinking about writing a post titled "Why Trevor Cahill Scares the #$%@ Out of All of Us," but I'm too lazy to do so without someone telling me to, so here's what I have so far. Obviously, the first-inning runs are a major concern, and they force the team to play from behind more often than not in Cahill starts. And while the home runs haven't been as much of a concern since the break, it's still disconcerting to see a sinkerballer get taken yard as much as Cahill has over the past month and a half. He also happens to have the highest WHIP of anyone currently in the rotation (though by a tiny margin), suggesting that even when things are going well for him, he allows plenty of baserunners. Please share your own reasons Why Trevor Cahill Scares the #$%@ Out of All of Us in the comments!
Aaron Harang has always been a fairly solid pitcher who's main bugaboo is the home run ball. Since he played much of his career in the bandbox known as Great American Ballpark, the Dodgers thought it would be a neat little experiment to see how he did in a place that yields far fewer home runs. So far, it's working out great, with Harang on pace to have the lowest ERA of his career. But the thing is, the Padres tried the exact same thing with Harang, and it didn't work at all. God, sometimes you just have to feel for the Padres.
Insightful Commentary: Miley gave up nine hits against the Mets, his highest total since his start against the Cards in early May. But he's averaged more than seven hits per start since the end of June, which is unnerving. Maybe this was inevitable, given that his BABIP has lurked well below .300 all year, but that doesn't make it any more fun to watch.
Chris Capuano has probably been the Dodgers' second-best starter this year, which is somewhat frightening for a team with playoff aspirations. But the numbers check out, as his 3.13 ERA is augmented by a 3.56 FIP, His HR/FB is the lowest of his career, which I'm just going to chalk up to stupid Dodger Stadium being stupid, but his K:BB has been above average, and that tends to help a pitcher.
Insightful Commentary: Has anyone else been feeling a little...I don't know...bored by Josh Collmenter lately? It's only natural, he was a long reliever for enough time that I got used to him in that role, and I guess I just started looking past him, to Miley, to Bauer, to Corbin and Skaggs and 2013's awesome young rotation. But let's not forget that we're now 226 innings into the Josh Collmenter Experience, and he's given us an ERA+ of 114. Bauer, Skaggs, and Corbin all have the potential to do that, I suppose, but none of them have yet, so keep that in mind the next time you mentally write Collmenter into the 2013 bullpen.
I kind of doubt we'll see Stephen Fife here. The Dodgers just read the above section and had a minor freak-out when they realized Chris Capuano was their best option to start Game 2 of a hypothetical playoff series, so they're actively shopping for a front-line starter. If they get one before the deadline, he'll probably slide in here. But if not, they could do worse than Fife, who has given up only two runs in two starts for the team. You're better off not looking at his peripherals for too long, though...
Final Verdict: The Dodgers just went to San Francisco and got a share of first place by sweeping the Giants, so the temptation is to say that this could be a let-down series for them. But at the same time, they're returning home after a long road trip to show off their new acquisition to the hometown fans for the first time, so there will probably be plenty of energy in Los Angeles. It won't be easy, but this is probably the most important series of the season for the Diamondbacks, and hopefully they'll take this opportunity to play like it. Diamondbacks two games to one.
Ever wonder what Dodger fans do before the third inning and after they leave the game in the seventh? Go to True Blue LA, of course.
(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs).