The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will meet in the playoffs for the first time in this year’s NLDS. The Dodgers hold home-field advantage through the entirety of the playoffs, so the first two games will be played in Los Angeles on October 6th and 7th, with a return to Hell (aka Chase Field) on October 9th and, if necessary, October 10th and a Los Angeles finale scheduled for October 12th. The Diamondbacks won the season series, notably sweeping the Dodgers in their last 6 head-to-head match ups. Since teams will need contributions from the entire diamond, we’re going to do a two-part positional preview starting with the pitchers and the catchers.
Let’s take a look at the starting pitching. Below, I’ll list the likely starters for each team, and then compare each individual match up. While the teams likely won’t run 5-man rotations, nobody has been announced as the 4th starter yet so we’ll look at the whole package.
*stats include time with Dodgers, only.
Both teams boast quality in regards to their starting pitching, but it is hard to argue that the D-backs are better than the Dodgers. As it always does in the playoffs, each game will likely come down to timely hitting and the losing team making a critical error that becomes their undoing.
Game 1: Kershaw vs Walker
Taijuan Walker was announced as the Game 1 starter during the press conference. Taijuan Walker is a once highly touted prospect out the Mariners system. He pitched a career year in 2017, showing some of the flashes that made him a highly touted prospect. He’s a solid back-end rotation piece who can flash command issues more frequently than he’d care to admit.
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of our generation, and maybe of most generations. This one favors the Dodgers and it isn’t close.
Game 2: Hill vs Ray
Robbie Ray has been rather highly touted for a while, and this year he finally broke out and showed the things of which he was capable. His 12.11 K/9 was a career high, and was second in baseball behind Chris Sale. He can still struggle with command at times, as evidenced by his 3.94 BB/9.
Rich Hill started the year slow while battling blister issues, but pitched at an elite level once he returned from the DL in mid-May. Both pitchers have momentum on their side, and Ray has shown tremendous success this year against the Dodgers. Both are competitors. This game will likely be fought hard, and the advantage for either pitcher isn’t very pronounced.
Game 3: Darvish vs Greinke
Greinke rebounded from an incredibly poor and injury-riddled 2016 to rattle off a year quite similar to his career norm. He struck out the most hitters per 9 as he has since 2011, and also reduced his walk rate.
Darvish struggled to find consistency in Texas and once he came over at the trade deadline, but he rebounded relatively nicely to finish the season strong. While Greinke is likely the better pitcher, this is pushed into “Push” territory by the fact that he’s always struggled against his former team and Darvish dominated the D-Backs in his only outing against them this season.
Game 4: Ryu/Wood vs Corbin
Patrick Corbin is a perfectly acceptable 4th starter and he actually put up a solid year in Arizona. He’s rebounded pretty well after being plagued with injuries and threw his highest innings total since 2013.
Ryu eclipsed all of Corbin’s stats in his rebound year, and Alex Wood, even with his velocity issues toward the end of the year, blew them out of the water. If the Dodgers go with Ryu, this might be a little closer on paper. If they go with Wood, this swings massively in the Dodgers favor. Overall, I think this is a match-up that favors LA either way you flip it.
The Dodgers bullpen strikes out a hefty 27.7% of the batters they face, while the D-Backs strike out about 23.3%. The Dodgers bullpen walks 8.0% of the batters they face while Arizona walks 8.9%. The Diamondbacks induce more ground balls (48.6% to 41.1%), while the Dodgers generate more fly balls (37.3% to 32.9%) and more soft contact (20.8% to 18.8%.) The Dodgers will likely run with 3 lefties, which plays off of an Arizona weakness, as even with J.D. Martinez in the fold, they have been nearly as poor against lefties this year as the Dodgers were last year. Archie Bradley is an anchor for Arizona, but they really don’t have anyone that pitches on the same level as Kenley Jansen. As we saw in 2016, the reigns will be off Kenley and he’ll throw the ball when he’s needed. This one favors the Dodgers and it ain’t close.
Chris Iannetta put up one of the best years in his career offensively, but he’s still relatively average behind the plate. Mathis has always been a relatively poor hitter, but pretty effective behind it and that didn’t change much in 2017. Mathis has an elite caught stealing percentage (42%), and he will generally be used as Greinke’s personal catcher.
Grandal didn’t have as strong of a year as last year, but he’s still an elite framer capable of putting a ball over the wall at any time. Barnes really emerged in 2017, and could actually take the lion’s share of the playing time against left-handers away from Grandal. He’s no slouch defensively, either.
This is another match up that favors the Dodgers, and it’s another one that isn’t close.
Overall, the pitching and catching match up strongly favors the Dodgers. Join us tomorrow for part 2 of our positional preview!
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