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Preview, #34: 5/5 vs. Astros

Another series, another rubber match

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Lineups

George Springer - CF David Peralta - LF
Jose Altuve - 2B Daniel Descalso - 3B
Carlos Correa - SS Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Josh Reddick - RF A.J. Pollock - CF
Alex Bregman - 3B Steven Souza - RF
Brian McCann - C Ketel Marte - 2B
Marwin Gonzalez - 1B Alex Avila - C
Derek Fisher - LF Nick Ahmed - SS
Justin Verlander - RHP Matt Koch - RHP

On first glance, this appears a pitching mis-match of not much smaller proportions than the Kris Medlen/Gerrit Cole fiasco we experienced on Friday night. Matt Koch has only five major-league starts under his belt, while Justin Verlander is a Cy Young winner, six-time All Star, and has been stellar this season, being undefeated with a 1.13 ERA. But perhaps it’s not quite the same. If there’s such a thing as momentum, it’ll be on the D-backs’ side after they walked off the Astros last night, to stop a losing streak. And Koch is also undefeated, with a 2.37 ERA that’s pretty respectable for a #6 starter. Last time out, he kept the team in the game against another ace, Clayton Kershaw, and allowed them to pull out the win.

Koch has been lucky - his FIP sits at 4.32, close to two runs higher than his ERA. He has been helped by a knack for dialing up the double-play ball, with five in fifteen chances, three times the expected rate. Small sample size, but he has been much more of a groundball pitcher this year, with a GO/AO of 1.87, compared to the MLB average of 1.09. Hard to say if it’s a deliberate change. That has helped counter the issue where he has been walking rather too many people and not striking out enough, having a K:BB of 14:7 in 19 innings. Getting ahead early in the count would likely be a help there: thus far, he has thrown as many first-pitch balls as strikes.

It’s going to be another challenge for our hitters, with Verlander having been on fire lately. He dominated the Yankees for eight shutout frames last start, with 14 K’s, but got the no-decision as the bullpen coughed it up. Over his last five starts, he hasn’t allowed a run more often than not, with a K:BB ratio of 48:5 in that time. Given the free-swinging nature of the Diamondbacks’ hitters, I can see another double-digit K game - we’ve had fifteen of those already. But we’ll see what happens: it was good to see the team claw their way to a victory last night. If Koch can keep the Astros in check, as he did the Dodgers, and it comes down to a bullpen battle, I’ll be fine with that.