So, that sucked. After six quality innings from Kenta Maeda, the Los Angeles Dodgers watched the bullpen give up four runs and ultimately the team lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks by the final score of 4-2. Even in losses there can still be positive contributions, but there were also a few worry spots.
This also marked the final home opener for legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, so it was a little bittersweet to see the Dodgers open up their home slate with a loss because of what Scully has meant to the franchise over the duration of his time here. Scully, as always, was class in the way he called the game.
Takeaway #1: Kenta Maeda is deceptive, and that deception should help him all year. There really isn’t anything other to say about Kenta Maeda thus far than that he’s been sensational. He pitched six innings of shutout baseball today, and the final out he recorded was assisted by a putout at home plate as a runner tried to score from first base on a double. So, he did get some luck there, but Maeda was fantastic in his own right. He gave up just five hits and one walk while striking out four batters. His season FIP is at 2.51, and you’ll definitely take that out of a starter if you can get it.
Also, consider this: so far Maeda has faced 47 batters this season, and only four of them have registered an exit velocity of at least 100 MPH. I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive as hell. Maeda threw 39 sliders and changeups today, and only three of them resulted in hits. He generated eight swings and misses on the 20 swings batters had on them. His offspeed stuff remains downright dynamite. There really is no telling what the talented right-hander could be capable of this season, but his first two starts have been sensational.
Takeaway #2: Yasiel Puig is fun as heck to watch, and he makes a difference all over. Let’s get it out of the way first. That slide by Puig was one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see on a baseball field. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the other stuff. Puig went 1-for-3 today with a double, which is where the slide happened, but other things did happen out there. He also got hit by a pitch, but rather than do anything to hover around home plate, the right fielder sprinted hard to first base in order to get to the next batter. He’s hustled all year.
Secondly, his defense was fun to watch. In the first inning, there was a runner on first with nobody out when a line drive came right at him. Puig caught the ball, and then he fired a laser to first base in an attempt to catch the runner napping. The runner was safe, but Puig’s desire to make every play imaginable was evident from the beginning. In the top of the sixth, he got to a ball that was rolling around down the right field line and fired a dart to cutoff man Justin Turner so that Turner could throw a runner out at the plate. Puig trusted a cutoff man, and that alone is worthy of praise. 2016 Puig is not 2015 Puig, and that much is already certain.
Takeaway #3: The bullpen is a dumpster fire, but, in his defense, Pedro Baez wasn’t bad. On the surface, the bullpen’s struggles started with Pedro Baez giving up a two-out solo home run to Nick Ahmed that allowed the Diamondbacks to tie the game at 1-1. However, it wasn’t a bad pitch. Baez threw a changeup that was out of the zone, and Ahmed simply golfed it out to left field for a little bit of a cheap home run. How cheap? Well, it was the fourth shortest home run (347 feet) of the baseball season so far. It’s hard to blame Baez for throwing a good pitch that Ahmed simply golfed out of the shortest part of the stadium by mere inches because of the tiny wall.
Still, the rest of the bullpen was pretty darn terrible. Chris Hatcher and Louis Coleman combined to pitch two innings, but they also gave up three runs, two walks, and three hits. The most demoralizing of those three hits and three runs being a solo home run that Hatcher served up to fantastic first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on a 3-0 count. It makes you wonder what was even going on then. Even then, the Dodgers still would have had a chance if the bullpen had held it to just a one run deficit, but instead they gave up two more runs in the ninth inning and ultimately put too much distance between themselves and their goal. It was another bad day for the bullpen, but Baez’s wasn’t as bad as people will try to say it was.
Takeaway #4: Dave Roberts has to do a better job of in-game and situational managing. This is where the beef with the Goldschmidt at-bat comes into play. You never want to get beat by the other team’s best player. You always want to force someone else to do it. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best hitters on the planet, so with one out and a 3-0 count during a tie game in the top of the eighth inning, the manager should never allow the pitcher to just fire a pitch right in there to a fantastic hitter. You’re better off just walking the batter at that point. Imagine that the batter is Bryce Harper. If the count got to 3-0 late in a tie game, would you ever throw him a strike? You would not. You’d intentionally walk him at that point. So why not do the same for Goldschmidt?
Everyone deserves blame on that sequence: the manager, the pitcher, and the catcher. The manager should know better, the catcher should never call for a fastball to such a dangerous fastball hitter, and the pitcher should not serve it up on a silver platter. The blame is equally distributed, but Dave Roberts needs to manage better. That’s a situation where knowing the count, the score, and the opponent needs to be common sense. When it got to 2-0, they should have thought about walking him. When it got to 3-0, it should have been a foregone conclusion. Instead, the 3-0 pitch landed a county away and the chance of victory probably went with it.
Takeaway #5: The general frustration within the fanbase is real, and somewhat understandable. It’s hard to disagree with the notion that the Dodgers have essentially given away four games already this season. After all, they’ve had a lead in all eight games that they’ve played so far, and they’ve lost half of them. That doesn’t exactly endear a team to its fans. Blowing leads, especially half of the time, is a surefire way to tick people off. So, it might come as a real shock (read: nope) that the fanbase has started to get riled up over every little thing. It’s understandable.
The fans are ticked off at the bullpen, the offense at times, and other factors. However, the biggest factor that fans are mad at is Andrew Friedman and the front office, but it’s hard to understand why. At least from my perspective. The constant berating online by calling them “nerds” is so devoid of intellectual property that it’s insulting to baseball fans everywhere. I get it, you don’t like the fact that they look at the numbers and the game within the game. That’s fine. Yet there is a plan that they’re trying to follow in order to deliver a title to Los Angeles, and it involves far more than just this season.
We’re still just five percent of the way through the games, so buckle up. You might have an aneurysm if you’re going to get bent out of shape over every single game, good or bad. And directing the vitriol towards Friedman and company doesn’t do you any good. If you think they don’t know the bullpen has been bad, you’d be mistaken. But for those who shout from the mountaintops that they should have done something about it, what would you have done? There weren’t premier free agent relievers out there this season, and they tried to trade for Aroldis Chapman before then backing out because of his legal troubles. There just wasn’t much outside of Joakim Soria and Darren O’Day. Just give it another month or so before jumping off the cliff.