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Series Preview # 12 : Diamondbacks @ Dodgers

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After a losing streak, mental strength is winning.

Cathy Tramein, via Fairfax Media/Getty Images

The wizard returns.

I sat on my bench thinking social distancing blah blah blah. As my mind clears, I arrive at mental stillness. Just the slight motion of my lip curling into a smile made ripples in the air for as far as my eyes could see. My smile was winning! It wasn’t the excitement of being an underdog. It was mastering little things that could likely ripple into winning big moments. Anticipating those moments feels awesome.

Awareness broke through my thoughts. My friend the wizard was approaching. My curiosity grew - what would he say? He stopped and smiled a connection with cosmic meaning. His quiet, “Darn it, it’s no little thing!” captured my rapt attention.

“Analytics evolve within a bubble.” He paused and the silence was deafening. “Mastering challenging circumstances will open the door to winning big moments. I’m open to a new possibility…the Diamondbacks will beat down the Dodgers.” As those words echoed in my mind, he turned and walked onward. Leaves on the ground lightly crackled with each step. The ripples in the air returned to stillness.

How could the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers?

Let’s think about the rotation. Last season, who started when the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers? They were Robbie Ray (3 times)[traded away yesterday], Zac Gallen (once plus a bonus win this season), Taylor Clarke (once), and Merrill Kelly (once). Last Season, Madison Bumgarner started once when the Giants beat the Dodgers. In those wins, those 5 starters allowed between 1 and 4 earned runs; certainly they kept the Diamondbacks in the game.

Let’s think about hitting. Looking at the 10 wins we just talked about, the Diamondbacks (& Giants in 1 game) averaged 5.6 runs per game. This season, the Diamondbacks’ 10-game average of runs scored exceeded that mark for eight consecutive days. When they are hot, the Diamondbacks can score enough runs to beat the Dodgers.

Let’s think about the bullpen. Although statistics show the Dodgers bullpen performed significantly better, it’s generally accepted that bullpen performance is volatile. Although it does not separate starters from relievers, one statistic in the Diamondbacks favor is percentage of balls in play (59% vs 65%). With that strength, if Diamondbacks’ pitchers could reduce their walk percentage from 10.9% to 7.4%, that would be a powerful advantage. The 8th-9th inning combination of Stephen Crichton and Archie Bradley the-new-closer could shut the door on the Dodgers.

Let’s think about coaching. It will be a team effort with players who “believe in one another.” Players will follow Torey Lovullo’s example: “I will continue to do what I do every single day and be as consistent as I possibly can.” Players who always perform with focus and intensity never say could’ve and should’ve. When it all comes together, the Diamondbacks will beat the Dodgers.

Pitching Match-ups.

Game 1: Alex Young vs Julio Urias

In his first three starts, Alex Young pitched an average of 4.44 innings with an ERA of 4.73. Alex Young has shown he can pitch from the bullpen or in the rotation. “Mentality wise, it’s completely different for both [relieving and starting].” — Alex Young.

What about Julio Urias? Until his last two games, he allowed about 1 hit per inning. Now its 2 hits per inning. His ERA for those two games was 7.94. Comparing his ERA to Young’s shows this match-up is advantage D-backs.

Game 2: TBA, likely Zac Gallen vs Clayton Kershaw

Zac Gallen is about consistency, never allowing more than 2 earned runs in a game. Zac Gallen is about excellence. In the NL, he ranks in the top-10 in these stats: WAR, ERA, adjusted ERA+, Hits per 9 innings, RE-24 and fielding percentage as Pitcher. However, Gallen’s 2.03 ERA was only enough to be credited with one win.

What about Clayton Kershaw? Kershaw ranks top-10 in many stats. This season, his ERA of 1.80 is one of the reasons he won 4 games this season.

Game 3: TBA, likely Caleb Smith vs Dustin May

Caleb Smith is metaphorically an opposite of Robbie Ray! Robbie Ray’s 9.0 walks-per-9-innings is a career high, eclipsing 5.1 in 2015. Caleb Smith’s 3.5 walks-per-9-innings (2019) is not just lower, it is opposite because of his attitude towards walking hitters. “Command and strikeouts. That’s basically [the biggest difference]. I get in trouble when I walk hitters...My stuff plays in the zone.” — Caleb Smith, 10 May 2019.

What about Dustin May? Although his consistency is similar to Zac Gallen’s, he did not crack the top-10 lists except for his 7 starts as of 29 August ranked 1st in the NL. This match-up is advantage Diamondbacks.

Will Mookie Betts push the Dodgers into a World Series win?

The Dodgers had talent. The Dodgers had depth. The last three seasons showed talent and depth were not enough to win a World Series.

Mookie Betts was acquired in February. He might be the catalyst to win the World Series. Or the Dodgers might stumble. In either case, his impact is amazing for the following reasons:

  • bWAR. This season, Mookie Betts has the highest WAR of any Dodger. Better than NL MVP Cody Bellinger. Better than three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Better than Cy Young candidate Walker Buehler. His 2.1 bWAR is double any other Dodger. Chris Taylor’s 1.0 bWAR is closest. The best pitcher is Tony Gonsolin with 0.7 bWAR.
  • 11 home runs and 6 stolen bases. In the NL, he ranks 2nd in home runs (Tatis Jr. ranks 1st), and 4th in stolen bases. This season, he leads the Dodgers in both. Last season Cody Bellinger led the Dodgers in both. Eric Stephen wrote, “On Sunday[23 August], Betts became the first Dodger ever and the 19th major leaguer since 1901 with two home runs and two steals in the same game...” His offense is silver slugger caliber (which he won in three prior seasons).
  • Defense. His defense is gold glove caliber (which he won in four prior seasons). This season, he ranks first in the NL in the following: 7 Total Zone Runs as Right Fielder (RF), and 64 Putouts as RF. He ranks in the top 5 in the following: 2.41 Range Factor per game as RF, 1.0 WPA, and 14.71 RE24.

“This roster...lineup...rotation... Everything is there. It’s just a matter of going out and putting it into action. I’m here to help.” — Mookie Betts 12 Feb 2020

“This definitely is a new chapter that I am super, super excited about...gotta win a World Series.” — Mookie Betts 12 Feb 2020