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Series Preview # 6 : Diamondbacks vs Dodgers

The Diamondbacks are playing well and will likely win one game.

Gavin Lux fields second base.
Gavin Lux fields second base.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Watch a top-100 prospect who is finding success in the Majors.

In 2019, Gavin Lux was a top-100 prospect in baseball.

On 17 May of 2021, he hit his first grand slam. The pitcher was Kevin Ginkel. The Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in that 4 game series, with the other three games close until the seventh or eighth innings.

Gavin Lux explained his mental approach in the following quote:

“Control the strike zone, wait out for a good pitch to hit. Yeah, that’s my game for sure. If you look at the guys one through eight in front of me, I don’t have a whole lot. I think for me, it’s about being who I am and not trying to do too much like I have in the past.” — Gavin Lux

Although in the preseason he was seen as a role player, in April (through the 19th) he played 9 complete games, 6 at second base and 3 in left field. Although his defense in left field was average (zero OAA and zero DRS), his defense at second base was excellent (1 OAA and 2 DRS in 55 innings).

“I can [see Gavin Lux in a utility role] and that’s a huge compliment….I feel good with Gavin out there [in the outfield where he hasn’t played] and I expect him to make the plays.” — Dave Roberts, January 2022.

This season through 19 April, his .391 wOBA was a career best. His batting may improve because his expected wOBA (xwOBA) was .488. His wRC+ was 157.

“He’s finally understanding who he is as a player. He’s not trying to be someone he’s not, and when he stays within himself he can do some special things.” — Dave Roberts, 9 April 2022.

The Dodgers Bet Big on Mookie Betts.

The Dodgers extended Mookie Betts for 12 years/$365 Million to cover 2021 through 2032. The average of $30 Million per season is likely more than 10% of the Dodgers player salaries, which will continue this season plus 10 more seasons.

“We appreciate the risk that came with that and we did go into it with our eyes wide open.” — Andrew Friedman

“When you’re making an investment of this magnitude, you’re not just betting on ability, you’re betting on the person. We couldn’t be more comfortable to make that bet on Mookie. …But what really stood out is the work ethic, the burning desire to get better on a daily bases.” — Andrew Friedman

My view was that the extension was a huge mistake because injury risk and age-related decline. Surprisingly, the extension was much worse than I expected.

In this second season of the extension, Mookie Bett’s performance dropped to below replacement level (OPS+ of 51 and WAR of negative 0.1). UPDATE through 23 April Betts improved his OPS+ to 89 and WAR to +0.2. With $342.1 Million remaining to be paid, the Dodger may receive little benefit from 10% of their payroll for this season and for the next 10 seasons.

“I think he’ll be the first to tell you he stinks right now. But he’s a heckuva ballplayer and he’ll figure it out.” — Dave Roberts

What is the Diamondbacks’ pitching challenge?

In games through 19 April, the Diamondbacks averaged 2 runs per game. Even when their batting improves, their pitching needs to be near perfect to win a game this series.

On 20 April, the Diamondbacks batters broke out, scoring 11 runs. A page was turned, and now the Diamondback pitchers only need to be excellent to win a game.

For the Diamondbacks to pitch excellent is achievable. In the Dodger’s first 11 games, the opposing team kept the Dodgers scoreless in 71 innings (averaging 6.5 innings per game). If this series is typical, and if the Diamondbacks’ defense holds the Dodgers to only 1 run in the other 2 or 3 innings, then the Diamondbacks have a chance to win one game this series.

With confidence, I predict the Diamondbacks will win one game, which will be a good series!

The Pitching Matchups.

The Closers are great!

  • The Dodgers traded ex-Diamondback Pollock for closer Craig Kimbrel. This season, he has 3 saves in 3 opportunities.
  • The Diamondbacks signed Mark Melancon as a free agent. This season, he has 2 saves in 2 opportunities.

Monday 6:40 pm Arizona time, Walker Buehler (96 ERA+, 15.2 IP, 7 hits, 6 BB, 7 ER) vs Merrill Kelly (685 ERA+, 15 IP, 13 hits, 5 BB, 1 ER).

Last season, Walker Buehler was fifth in voting for NL Cy Young.

This season Walker Buehler’s ERA+ is below the average in the Majors. His four-seam fastball was less effective. Batting average against it was .500, with wOBA of .664. AZ Snake Pit fans noticed that many times Diamondbacks don’t swing at fastballs to drive up the pitch count of starters. That could change. Against Buehler, swinging at 4-seam fastballs could be a game-winning strategy.

Walker Buehler made adjustments after each of his first two starts. His third start was against the Braves. He allowed 8 hits (5 different batters) that led to 3 ERs.

This season, Merrill Kelly is the Diamondbacks’ ace. With home field advantage, the Diamondbacks have a 36% winning chance underdog per 538.com. My optimistic view differs. After watching the Diamondbacks beat the Nationals by 11-2, after comparing the starters’ ERA+, after realizing Buehler 4-seam fastball is weak, my realistic view is the Diamondbacks have a 50% winning chance.

“It [the 6 inning start against the Nationals] was a very Merrill-like outing.” — Torey Lovullo

Tuesday, Tony Gonsolin (561 ERA+) vs Zach Davies (80 ERA+).

Although Tony Gonsolin’s 5.5 SO9 is a career low, he continues to pitch very well. If he were pitching for the Diamondbacks, he would be a top-3 pitcher this season and the last three seasons.

Zach Davies’ third start was by far his best of the season for two reasons:

  • His 58 game score was his best of the season.
  • His 26.8 K% was spectacular, especially following the 9.5 K% in his first two games.

His [Zach Davies’] command was excellent, using his sinker and change-up effectively to confuse Nationals batters. — Steven Burt of AZ Snake Pit.

Wednesday, Julio Urias (131 ERA+) vs Zac Gallen (408 ERA+)

Julio Urias is better than indicated by his above average ERA of 3.00. Excluding his start at Coors field, his ERA is 0.90 (that’s not a typo).

Zac Gallen’s ERA of 1.00 is about the same as Julio Urias’s non-Coors 0.90 ERA. This game’s starters could engage in a pitching duel.

This season, the Diamondbacks’ best two starts were by Merrill Kelly against the Astros on 13 April, and Zac Gallen against the Mets on 22 April. Zac Gallen was impressive in that game.

“Zac Gallen’s first three innings were as dominant as I’ve seen him in a long time. He retired all nine Mets, to be perfect the first time through the order. That included six strikeouts, five of which came in a row.” — Jim McLennan