Arizona Diamondbacks (10-7) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (8-8)
After a hot, 6-1 start to the year, the D-Backs cooled off a bit on their 10 game road trip. They went 4-6 in California, including 2 consecutive losses to the Padres to finish the trip. So, what gives? Well, the offense sorta died; Arizona exceeded four runs in only one of the ten games they played. The defense has looked rather suspect as well, with an NL-most 15 errors on the year, plus several other miscues which have cost runs. The D-Backs are still just a half game out of first in the West, and 3 games above .500, better than I would have ever imagined 17 games into the season, so I am not too disappointed about the road trip.
Looking at the individual player stats, only Jake Lamb and Chris Iannetta played better on the road trip than the homestand; through Wednesday, both had an OPS over 1.000 in California. Brandon Drury and Paul Goldschmidt saw this biggest decline in their numbers, going from an OPS over 1.000 to batting averages in the .100s. The good news, however, is that Goldschmidt still got on base at a .349 clip due to his 9 walks.
The 8-8 record that the Dodgers possess would indicate a very okay team. Closer inspection of their record, however, says otherwise. 7 of the 8 Dodger losses have been by 2 runs or less. Their 3-7 record in close games hints that the Dodgers are a bit better than their 8-8 record says; their 11-5 pythagorean record tells the same story.
The Dodgers offense has been alright this year; they rank 15th in runs per game. Leading the team thus far has been Justin Turner (170 OPS+) and Yasiel Puig (4 homers, 153 OPS+). Puig has improved his plate discipline immensely; his walk rate of 15% is 2 and a half times better than last year, and top 30 in the majors. His strikeout rate has also been cut in half. Offseason acquisition Logan Forsythe has performed well in his debut season with the Dodgers, getting on base at a .407 clip, as has last year’s rookie of the year Corey Seager. Top to bottom, this is a solid Dodger line-up, without many holes.
Nothing new/notable on the injury front for the D-Backs.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, list 11 players on their injury report. The most notable consist of...
- Justin Turner- day-to-day after being hit in the hand by a pitch on Tuesday.
- Logan Forsythe- fractured his big toe on April 18, on the 10-day DL (“10 day DL feels so weird to read and type).
- Rich Hill- out with blisters on his pitching hand, Alex Wood will fill in for him on Friday.
Game 1: Taijuan Walker RHP (2-1, 3.94 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) vs Alex Wood LHP (1-0, 1.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)
Walker has been solid up to this point in the season, as evidenced by his slightly-below-4 ERA. I would attribute most of his early success to him keeping the ball in the park; the right-hander has allowed only one home run in 16 innings pitched. Unfortunately, this home run rate is unsustainable. Walker will need to get his walk rate (currently at 3.38 BB/9) down once the home run rate normalizes itself. However, if this new-fangled humidor ends up reducing home runs by 25-50 percent like some have predicted, maybe that HR/9 rate won’t rise too much...
After beginning the season in the bullpen, Wood finds himself in the rotation for the second time this season. Filling in for the injured Rich Hill, the 26-year-old will look to repeat the success he had against the D-Backs in a long relief role a week ago; he went 3.1 innings, allowing no walks or hits. I could tell you about his fastball velocity or walk rate or something boring like that, but the most interesting part about Wood is his delivery. A run-of-the-mill leg kick gets him started; suddenly, Alex punches somebody behind him in the groin with his left hand, then delivers the baseball. No, really, check it out:
Game 2: Robbie Ray LHP (1-0, 1.96 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) vs Kenta Maeda RHP (1-1, 7.07 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)
After a couple seasons of being told how he could not pitch more than 5 innings, Ray is doing his darndest to discard that label. Maybe all he needed was a shave. He has completed 6 innings in 2 of his 3 outings, highly effective in each start. The K-rate is even higher than last season, all the way up at 11.78 K/9, good for 6th best in the majors. All signs seem to point toward a breakout... except for his walk numbers. Ray is walking nearly 6 batters per 9, which is, well, uh, not ideal. Miraculous that these walks haven’t gotten Robbie into big trouble yet.
Early on in the 2017 season, hitters seem to have figured Maeda out. His “best” outing of the year came on opening day, a rather unimpressive 5 inning, 3 run outing against the Padres. The former Nippon Professional Baseball player is known not for overpowering “stuff”, but for his command; the fact that he walked only 7% of batters last season proves this. I don’t see Maeda continuing his struggles for too much longer.
Game 3: Shelby Miller RHP (2-1, 3.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) vs Brandon McCarthy LHP (2-0, 2.12 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
Coming into the season, one of my top 3 wishes was for Shelby to be the pitcher he was expected to be last season; not for us the fans, but for himself. It probably was not a whole lot of fun to be the bad end of what was considered one of the worst trades in recent memory, and then to be one of the worst starting pitchers in the majors. Luckily, Shelby is redeeming himself in 2017. After two so-so starts to begin the year, he threw a 7.1 inning, 1 run gem against the Padres on Tuesday. Most importantly, he has not made a blowup start yet. His strikeouts are up from last year, while his home runs and walks are down; the three of these trends nearly always causes improvement. Beat LA on Sunday, Shelby!
As I look at Brandon McCarthy’s player page on Fangraphs, the part that sticks out to me the most is that the team which he has started the most games for is... the D-Backs? His 50 starts with Arizona in 2013 and 2014 are 7 more than he made with the A’s the two years prior. McCarthy was only able to make 13 starts in 2015 and 2016 due to injuries, posting an ERA in the mid-5s. This season has been Brandon’s best so far; the most runs he has allowed thus far has been two. His pitch repertoire consists of a fastball he can sink and cut, along with a big, looping curveball.
- Does the starting pitching continue to succeed? - during the post game show after last night’s, one graphic absolutely amazed me. 17 games in, the Diamondbacks starters have a 3.18 ERA, 3rd in the majors, and have pitched 99 innings, also 3rd in the majors. The D-Backs’ starting pitching (and honestly, the entire team) has been a delight so far.
- Will we see the home or road offense? - well, since we are at Chase, hopefully we see the home offense! 3.33 runs per game vs 6.86 will make a bit of a difference in whether you win or lose.
- Is the Dodgers’ pitching really that good? - the Dodgers lead the majors in run prevention, allowing a mere 2.91 runs per game. The part that this statistic leaves out is who prevents the runs; the starting rotation has a decent 3.86 ERA, but the bullpen has been the key to the low team ERA. The ‘pen has an ERA of 1.33.
In a series of quality pitching, the two foes never combining for more than 10 runs in a game, the D-Backs come out on top, taking 2 of 3. Saturday night will feature a walk-off home run, because I am going to that game and have never witnessed a walk-off in person :-)