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Series Preview #3: Diamondbacks vs Dodgers

And the wizard returned.

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Warm Winds
Warm Winds

The Diamondbacks split their first series with the Dodgers.

These two teams meet to play their second 4-game series of season, this time it’s the Diamondbacks’ home opener at Chase. I hope they find a way to split the series. If that happens, the Diamondbacks will have started the season with three consecutive split series.

Which team will walk more batters in this series?

This season through 4 April, the Diamondbacks’ pitchers walked more batters (30) than any other team, while the Dodgers’ pitchers walked fewer batters (6) than any other team.

Two reasons not to walk Dodgers’ batters:

  • Because Diamondbacks’ defense is great, making the Dodgers put the ball in play is a good idea.
  • Because Dodgers’ batters lead the league in home runs, less baserunners is a good idea.

On the other side of the coin, Diamondbacks’ batters are tied for fewest walks (9) while the Dodgers’ batters lead the league in walks (33). Because the Diamondbacks have some speedy baserunners, getting on base with walks is a good idea.

“The converse for pitching is that you shouldn’t walk guys. That just beefs up their OBP [on-base percentage]. If you look at some formulas for defense independent pitching, you find that not walking one batter is worth 50 percent more than striking that batter out.” — Ed Feng, 2015

The Dodgers will likely hit the most home runs.

The Dodgers are built on Home Runs.

In spring training, the Dodgers were near the bottom of the Majors in home runs. Did the Dodgers lose their capability to hit home runs? My hopes were dashed because they started the season with 7 home runs in their 4 game series with the Diamondbacks. In games through 4 April, the Dodgers’ 13 home runs rank first in the Majors.

The Dodgers have finished in the top four in home runs hit among National League teams in each of the past six years. They’ve also led the league in runs scored for five years running. A step back is inevitable at some point, likely this year. But the question is how much?” — Eric Stephen, SB Nation

Sadly, this season it appears the Dodgers will again hit a lot of home runs.

But hitting home runs is not the only way to win games. My hope is that this season the Diamondbacks will compete with the Dodgers for the highest OBP. It hasn’t happened yet; In games through 3 April, the Dodgers had a much higher OBP (.372 vs .229).

Theory is that a higher OBP means more built innings (at least 5 batters), and that results in more won games. Although the theory is not yet confirmed, the Diamondbacks built 4 innings in the first four games with the Dodgers - good enough to split the series but nevertheless not an auspicious start to the season.

These two teams are built differently. The Dodgers hit a lot of home runs, and the Diamondbacks don’t.

The Pitching Matchups.

As this preview is written, except for Thursday all matchups are TBD. In addition, Torey Lovullo said Madison Bumgarner will start Friday. Assuming no changes in rotation order the following matchups would happen.

Thursday 6:40 PM Arizona time; Dustin May (0 ER in 7 IP, FIP 2.72) vs Merrill Kelly (0 ER in 3.2 IP, FIP 4.63).

This will be the second time this season that these pitchers face each other. Neither pitcher allowed a run to score. Dustin May allowed 3 hits (Corbin Carroll, Christian Walker, and Gabriel Moreno) and 1 walk (Geraldo Perdomo). Merrill Kelly allowed 3 hits (Max Muncy, David Peralta, and Miguel Vargas) and 4 walks (Will Smith, Mookie Betts, David Peralta, and Miguel Vargas).

This game, it would be great if Merrill Kelly walks less batters. My view is that which team will win this game is a tossup, although shows the Dodgers with a 54% chance of winning this game.

Friday: 6:40 PM Arizona Time: Clayton Kershaw (1 ER in 6 IP, FIP 2.60) vs Madison Bumgarner (5 ERs in 4 IP, FIP 9.43).

After 14 consecutive seasons of excellent pitching (ERA+ ranged between 119 and 237), Clayton Kershaw’s first start showed that this season he will continue the streak. He has 2816 career strikeouts. That total could approach 3000 strikeouts by the end of the season.

Madison Bumgarner had an MRI on Monday and will start on Friday per Torey Lovullo.

This will be the second time this season that these pitchers faced each other. Although they both allowed 4 hits, their overall performance differed because the Dodgers scored 5 runs in the first inning. In the next three innings Madison Bumgarner only allowed 1 hit with zero runs scored. My hopes are that he avoids a bad first inning, he walks less batters, and the score will be close when the starters leave the game.

In the first matchup between these pitchers, Diamondbacks with hits were Christian Walker (2), Gabriel Moreno, and Nick Ahmed, and Dodgers with hits were Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trace Thompson, and Miguel Vargas.

“My mechanics were fine. It was just one of those days you have during the year, and mine just happened to be the first one. It wasn’t like I went out there and threw the ball really well, but I was just one pitch away in the first of it being a completely different game. After that, it wasn’t bad.” — Madison Bumgarner

Saturday: 5:10 PM Arizona Time: Noah Syndergaard (1 ER in 6 IP, FIP 1.22) vs Zach Davies (1 ER in 5 IP, FIP 4.83).

Nicknamed Thor, Noah Syndergaard’s claim to fame is gas. His average fastball velocity was between 97.7 and 98.7 (2015 to 2019 per Baseball Savant). After recovery from Tommy John surgery, he is a different pitcher. This season’s average fastball velocity is close to 93 MPH. Nevertheless, in his first start of the season he was an effective starter.

“The pitches I threw last year, I just want to throw those away. I fully intend on being a different pitcher next year. I see no excuse as to why I can’t get back to 100 mph and even farther than that. Just doesn’t make any sense.” — Noah Syndergaard, Dec 2022

“…The stuff isn’t where it was in the past, but my conviction and competitive nature has skyrocketed more than it was before.” — Noah Syndergaard, March, 2023

This season’s first matchup of these pitchers was a pitchers duel. They left the game with the score tied 1 to 1. With 2 outs in the ninth, it was Jake McCarthy’s bunt single that scored the go-ahead run (and eventually the winning run). With joy, I anticipate another pitchers’ duel.

Sunday: 1:10 Arizona Time: Michael Grove (3 ERs in 4IP, FIP 2.77) vs Ryne Nelson (3 ERs in 5 IP, FIP 6.47).

This could be a contest between pitchers who occasionally struggle in an inning.

In his first start of the season, Michael Grove completed 4 innings without allowing a run. The wheels fell off when he started the fifth inning. After two walks, a double scored a run. His night was over, but both his runners-on-base scored, for a total of 3 ERs.

In his first start of the season, Ryne Nelson needed 58 pitches to get through the first two innings, allowing 3 ERs. He completed the next three innings with zero runs scored and great pitch efficiency (39 pitches). Several fans, including me, were favorably impressed by how he responded to adversity and that he completed 5 innings!

The Wizard.

My feet float lightly on the ground, with comfort. In silent solitude, I sit on my bench contemplating this new season. The possibility of potential certainty of making success happen could be a very beautiful thing. With stark and dark disappointment, my thoughts drifted toward looking in the mirror and not seeing certainty. From that dark place I continue to contemplate.

There will always be monsters. But two nearby monsters are almost too much to bear. The Diamondbacks aren’t hapless, but they aren’t superstars either. The path forward is to fight for success, not for the certainty of achieving it, but to build character by never giving up and by making the most of the battles.

Leaves rustling. My awareness snapped back as leaves rustled. Definitely leaves rustling. I exclaimed “Wowsa!” The wizard was standing in front of me. He smiled. His words resonated. “Fortunate you are. Now that you are ready for a bigger challenge, the illusion of certainty disappeared. No ill-winds here. It’s a gift.” After a dramatic pause, in a friendly tone of voice he said, “Make the most of it.” A warm wind crescendo caused me to blink. The wizard was gone.

This season will be a battle with no certainty of success. It’s a gift. Make the most of it.