There was a lot to peel back in this game, even if there were only four runs scored throughout the nine innings. The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-1, and the market inefficiency of the last game was corrected. For at least a little while. You can thank two pitchers for that.
Either way, the Dodgers went out there and handled their business like a team with something to prove. Even though the offense wasn’t great, and the pitching was spotty at times, you have to love the fact they actually won the game and made the necessary adjustments in order to do so. It was comforting.
Takeaway #1: Alex Wood was really flipping good, and he deserves a ton of credit. Let’s all pay homage to Alex Wood tonight, yeah? He was good. He had a pretty easy first inning, but then got into trouble in the second and third innings before battling back to go through seven innings of pure wizardry. At one point, Wood retired 11 batters in a row. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he generated a ton of grounders and ended the game with 13 ground ball outs. That’s truly astonishing, and it’s something that helps put into context just how precise he got as the game went along.
His fastball sat around 91 all night long, which is a good speed considering the movement it can get. But the most impressive thing all night might have been his breaking ball. His curveball, which he threw 28 of, danced and pranced through the zone continually. Arizona swung at 16 of them, and they missed entirely on seven of them. Only one went for a hit. Wood only made one mistake all night, and that was a center-cut fastball to Nick Ahmed. Outside of that, brilliance. Sure, he did walk some batters, but he tightroped his way out of trouble early on with double plays before then getting out after out when settling down. The way he sprinted out of the dugout to try and pitch the eighth was fantastic, and it showed the heart he has. You have to love everything he did.
Takeaway #2: Dave Roberts went to Kenley Jansen for a five-out save, and I smiled. Several days ago, some commenters ridiculed me for suggesting that manager Dave Roberts botched the game against the San Francisco Giants by not going to closer Kenley Jansen for a five-out save. Well, tonight he decided to go for it. After Wood was taken out of the game after his 105th pitch resulted in an infield single, Roberts went to Pedro Baez. To his credit, Baez got the first batter to line out to center field on one pitch. However, that was about the only good thing. Baez then walked Segura on four pitches. When Arizona made the substitution to bring in David Peralta to pinch hit, Roberts came out of the dugout and went to Jansen. Even if the Dodgers had lost, it was the right move all the way.
You’re supposed to roll with your best pitchers in the game’s biggest moments. Two on with one out in a two-run game is pretty much the game’s biggest moment considering the next two batters due up. He came in and did what he does. Jansen struck out Peralta before then getting Paul Goldschmidt to fly out to center field on a pitch off the end of the bat. In the ninth, Jansen was never in trouble as he retired the side in order with two lazy fly outs and a strikeout. He threw just 18 pitches to get five outs. It was an economical showing. The last Dodgers pitcher to record at least a five-out save on 18 or fewer pitches? Paco Rodriguez. Nearly three years ago. We could see Jansen do this again, but only if the bullpen continues to struggle.
Takeaway #3: All hail the precise pitch framing and defense of Yasmani Grandal. Going back to the strikeout to end the game, we have to just marvel at the pitch framing of Yasmani Grandal. Last season, Grandal rated as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball because of his pitch framing ability. All the evidence you need rests on that final pitch from Jansen. Grandal effectively caught the pitch outside the zone, and then snapped it right back in front of the umpire for him to buy it as a strike. Welcome to what pitch framing can do for you. He’s excellent at it, but his uncanny defense behind the plate stretched far beyond just that one pitch.
With two outs and a runner on second in the fourth inning, Yasmani Grandal fired a bullet to third base and the runner was called out trying to steal. He only caught 29 percent of all potential baserunners last season, but the quick twitch decision and precise throw was really special on this play. It cut down a runner trying to steal, and it also enabled Wood to start the next inning fresh considering the pitcher was at the plate. That one play not only got the Dodgers an out to end the fourth inning, but enabled Wood to pick up the first out of the fifth inning due to facing the pitcher. Grandal called a hell of a game behind the plate, made a hell of a throw to catch a runner trying to steal, and showed the benefit of great pitch framing. He did it all. It was fantastic to have him back.
Takeaway #4: Dear Arizona, please stop hitting the players on our team. Thank you. There were three hit batters tonight, and all three involved the Arizona Diamondbacks plunking someone on the Los Angeles Dodgers. On two separate occasions, it was Justin Turner who got beaned. Thankfully, the x-rays taken after the game came back negative. That was a major bullet dodged. The Dodgers don’t need another injury to a key player. The other player who got hit was Joc Pederson. It’s hard to believe any of it was intentional. There wasn’t anything malicious going on from either side at all during the game, so it seems that a couple of pitches just got away. However, it still was frustrating to see.
The Dodgers have now endured nine hit by pitches already in nine games. No other team has more than seven as of this moment. Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates led baseball with 89 hit batters. The Dodgers are on pace for 162, but obviously they won’t even come close. I doubt they even get hit more than 70 times, but they did get hit 60 times last season and they’re already up to nine so far. It’d be nice if all of this stopped and the team didn’t have to worry every single time someone got plunked. Turner’s already been hit three times, and Utley and Puig have each been hit twice. Please, just stop hitting the players. We kind of need them.
Takeaway #5: It’ll be interesting to see just how much longer the starting pitchers can pitch like this. After Alex Wood’s first start of the season, many assumed the regression would be coming for the rest of the staff. Instead, it didn’t happen. Only Scott Kazmir has had a shaky start since Wood’s season debut, and now that Wood has put together a great second start the numbers paint a good picture for the Dodgers. So far on the season, the starters have pitched 56.1 innings and have a 2.40 ERA. The innings and ERA both rank second in baseball. The other good news is that the starters have allowed the lowest opponent’s OPS in baseball thus far, but it will definitely be intriguing to see how long this holds up.
Ross Stripling is going to be on the mound on Thursday night, and he’s probably going to give up a hit at some point rather than continue to hold teams hitless in his career. Still, it makes you wonder just what this rotation could be capable of doing. Last season, the Dodgers finished with the second best ERA in baseball among starters. It was 3.24. With so much uncertainty and so many games remaining, the Dodgers might be able to finish somewhere close to that if things go their way. Considering how much scrutiny the team endured during the offseason for letting Zack Greinke get away, having a starting staff finish with an ERA that is even remotely close to last year’s level might be quite spectacular. If they were to best it, there might even be hordes of shocked people.