I don't really want to write an intro for this. Not because I'm lazy--although that's true as well--but because it's almost guaranteed to look dumb in about five days, max. Such is the joy of playing baseball games in a tight but profoundly mediocre division.
Two weeks ago, the Dodgers were done. They were the shortest team in a division of midgets. Sure, there are teams that make the playoffs after being 9.5 games back at the end of June, but they're rare enough that optimists single them out specifically when saying it's not impossible.
Five days ago, the Dodgers were going to win the division. It wouldn't even be close, probably. Even if the terrible division-leading Diamondbacks could stop being terrible for long enough to beat up on their terrible division, it was inevitable that the Dodgers would win. What's a 2.5 game gap for a team playing that well?
And now, I don't really know. The Diamondbacks just had their best series in at least a month, reigniting speculation that this team could actually be pretty decent, if all the underachieving pieces could just do what they're supposed to. This ignores how many players are exceeding expectations on the team at the moment, but let's deal with that another time. This team is good enough to win a bad division, which is faint praise that still seemed absurd five days ago.
But the Dodgers, after all sorts of glitches and false starts, finally have the team they wanted to have from the outset, and the bad news is that team looks pretty good. This looked like a very good team on paper going into this season, and at least for a couple of weeks, the reality has matched the paper. That doesn't mean it will continue to, but LA's personnel suggests that they're less likely to fade out of the race than the Rockies or Giants.
What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):
One of the weird things about using park-adjusted stats is that sometimes you have a series like this, where two teams from radically different home environments have almost identical numbers on the surface.
The Dodgers have a .715 OPS while the D-Backs' team figure is .718. Diamondbacks have a 3.83 team ERA while the Dodgers are at 3.80. The only difference is that Chase Field is a far better hitting environment than Dodger Stadium is. In a roundabout way though, these teams actually are very evenly matched, from this quick and dirty statistical profile, in that the Diamondbacks' true-talent offense is about as much worse than the Dodgers' as their pitching is better.
1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Cody Ross, RF
6. Martin Prado, 3B
7. Didi Gregorius, SS
8. A.J. Pollock, CF
Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Mark Ellis, 2B
2. Yasiel Puig, RF
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Hanley Ramirez, SS
5. Andre Ethier, LF
6. Matt Kemp, CF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Juan Uribe, 3B
Matt Kemp is currently day-to-day with shoulder irritation, so we may see a bit more Carl Crawford if Kemp gets put back on the DL before the start of the series.
Hidden amid the hoopla and insanity about Yasiel Puig is a modicum of actual analysis on Puig's strengths and weaknesses as a hitter. A "book," as the baseball people call it. Here are the Spark Notes of that book, as best I can tell.
1. Don't throw Puig strikes.
2. No, I don't care what the situation is, don't throw him strikes.
3. He'll probably swing at balls off the plate.
4. And if he doesn't, just pitch to Adrian Gonzalez instead. Dude isn't even an All-Star.
5. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY ARE YOU THROWING PUIG STRI--
6. Welp, guess that's the opposite-field power we were told about.
Not that anyone's paying attention they way they are with Puig, but Hanley Ramirez has played as many games as the rookie (31) and hit better, with a 1.177 OPS that trumps Puig's 1.118. But as insane as it sounds, no one is touting Hanley Ramirez as an All-Star because sometimes good hitters will hit really well over the course of 30 games and there's nothing actually that exceptional about that.
Juan Uribe has an OPS that's more than 100 points higher Matt Kemp. And even more surprisingly, that's not just a Matt Kemp joke anymore. Uribe's been very good.
I don't really know why Mark Ellis and his .301 OBP have hit lead off in nine of the last thirteen games, but I'm certainly not going to complain if it continues for three more days.
You presumably know that Buster Posey has the most fWAR of any NL Catcher since the start of 2012, and you probably guessed that Yadier Molina is second. But I doubt you knew that A.J Ellis is third over that time. Hell, I've been banging the "A.J. Ellis is pretty cool" drum since this started, and I still didn't know. A.J. Ellis is pretty cool.
Monday: Randall Delgado (1-2, 3.67) vs. Zack Greinke (6-2, 4.30)
Insightful Commentary: First things first: the home runs look like they're going to be a problem for Delgado going forward. We don't know how big of a problem yet, and his HR/FB isn't going to be over 22% forever, but the homers were a problem in the minors and that doesn't go away when minor leaguers come to Chase Field. But with that said, if his K:BB ratio stays above five I don't think I'm going to care too much.
The Dodgers aren't going to going to hire a private investigator to track down Greinke's missing strikeouts because that wouldn't make any sense and it would cost money. And if there's one thing we know about the Dodgers, it's that they're all about frugal spending. However, the fact remains that over the last three years, his strikeouts per nine have gone from 10.5 (elite) to 8.5 (still above average) to 6.8 (uh oh) this year. Add in the fact that he's lost more than a mile per hour off his average fastball, and this should be a cause of major concern.
Tuesday: Ian Kennedy (3-4, 5.16) vs. Ricky Nolasco (5-8, 3.85)*
Insightful Commentary: Lost in everything else in Kennedy's last start against the Dodgers was the fact that it was possibly the best IPK had looked up to that point. And in general, he's looked better since that start. Outside of his first start back from the suspension, when he suffered from what seemed like rust, IPK has allowed just five runs in 19.1 innings.
The Dodgers won the Ricky Nolasco sweepstakes, confirming my suspicions and preempting the elaborate, Batchelorette-themed fanpost I planned to write about how all of the NL West teams were courting Nolasco. Nolasco isn't an ace, but he's been worth an average of 3 fWAR since 2007. That might overestimate him, since fWAR is based largely off of FIP and Nolasco's ERA has been consistently worse than his FIP. Still, if you had to play for the Marlins you'd probably underperform too, so we'll see what happens for him after a change of scenery.
Wednesday: Tyler Skaggs (2-1, 3.65) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 2.82)
Insightful Commentary: I think we saw the potential downside of trading Skaggs in his last start. Eight innings, three hits, no runs, no walks. The last of those is probably the most encouraging thing to see from a young pitcher, but his 50% Infield Fly Ball rate against the Rockies was also a bundle of fun.
Yasiel Puig has probably ruined the Rookie of the Year race for everyone, but in most years Ryu would have a strong case. The ERA is nice, but maybe the most impressive thing about him is his durability. Just one of Ryu's 17 starts has gone fewer than six innings, and only two others have been anything other than a quality start. Strangely, Ryu has a (small sample size alert) reverse platoon split, as lefties have hit him noticeably better than righties.
Three Pressing Questions:
With both Greinke and Kennedy pitching, are we going to see a continuation of the pugnacity from last time? Almost certainly not. I imagine that both teams will be warned preemptively before the series starts, and events like this rarely turn into anything anyway. That being said, it will probably change the way IPK pitches, considering that
pitching in is a huge part of his game he's history's greatest monster.
So who is Nolasco going to replace? Looks like Capuano, although Stephen Fife probably isn't feeling all that secure at this point either.
So, are YOU going to (hashtag)VoteforPuig? Ugh, fine. Here's the thing: the All-Star Game has no idea what it wants to be. We talk about it like it's a meritocracy, in that we look at stats and get angry when guys who "should" be there are omitted.
And yet, every time there's a star (typically a really good rookie in a big media market) who starts off well, and all sorts of semi-sane sportswriters implore us to add him on the basis that it's just an exhibition and adding the rookie would be "good for the game." These two interpretations are fundamentally incompatible.
On some level, yeah, I'd love to see Puig step into the box against Justin Verlander, but I guess I fall closer to the meritocracy interpretation of the game. I like that the game rewards players for a strong first half, even if they don't have the "star power" that some others might have. So, for this game at least, give me Hunter Pence.
Also, I'm tired of people who aren't fans telling me that the "fans" want him in the game. Which fans? I'm a fan. YOU DON'T SPEAK FOR ME, BASEBALL TONIGHT!
Dodger Blog: True Blue LA
(All numbers via Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)