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Preview, #29: 5/1 vs. Dodgers

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Okay, who predicted Matt Koch going into May with the same number of wins as Clayton Kershaw AND a better ERA? Thought not.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Today's Lineups

LOS ANGELES DODGERS ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Chris Taylor - SS Daniel Descalso - LF
Joc Pederson - CF Nick Ahmed - SS
Yasmani Grandal - C Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Cody Bellinger - 1B A.J. Pollock - CF
Matt Kemp - RF Chris Owings - RF
Chase Utley - 2B Ketel Marte - 2B
Alex Verdugo - LF Alex Avila - C
Max Muncy - 3B Deven Marrero - 3B
Clayton Kershaw - LHP Matt Koch - RHP

It would be foolish to expect victory for the D-backs tonight. I mean, they face a pitcher who has seven consecutive top-five finishes in the Cy Young. And in Koch they’re sending out a pitcher with precisely one more major-league start (4) than Kershaw has Cy Youngs on his mantelpiece. It’s an epic level mis-match. And, yet... The D-backs have held their own in games started by Kershaw. They’re 12-16 all time, a .429 win percentage, which compares favorably to the 103-193 career record overall, of teams going up against the Kersh, a .348 W%. And there are multiple precedents, of course, for a rookie Arizona starter beating him. Archie Bradley did it in his debut, and Chase Anderson in his second-ever start.

But we may be meeting Kershaw at the perfect time. His fastball appears to have lost a couple of ticks. Brooks Baseball has his April 2018 velocity at 91.7 mph, down from 93.6 mph in April 2017. Fangraphs shows different figures for 2017 and 2018 as a whole (92.7 and 91.0), but a similar decrease. There may be some measurement differences involved in this (Fangraphs shows the average fastball down 0.4 mph this season), but it seems unlikely to account for everything. Small sample size alert, but the peripherals agree: Kershaw’s K-rate is his lowest since 2013, and his BB-rate the highest since 2012. Two years ago, he walked eleven batters all season (albeit in an injury-shortened 21 starts). He’s already at nine.

Make no mistake, it won’t be easy tonight: he’s still one of the best pitchers out there. But with the Dodgers reeling from injuries and further back in the division race than they’ve been after any April in the divisional era, they’re staggered. Defeat tonight would send them nine games behind the Diamondbacks - they haven’t been that far back at any point (never mind the first day of May) in the last three seasons. While I’m always going to remember the insane streak they went on in 2017, there’s good reason that was a once a century thing. If the D-backs can take this one, it’s conceivable we could look back in October and realize this was the day the Dodgers died.

No Peralta in the line-up: he apparently tried to talk his way into it, but Torey Lovullo was having none of that. Still, a good indication that (hopefully) there’s no permanent damage from the blow to his hand last night. And Steven Souza played five innings and hit a home-run in extended spring training today, so seems on course to be reactivated before too much longer. After a month where it’s pitching that has largely carried the team, his return should help the offense bear its share of the load.