Thursday was a particularly tumultuous day to be a Dodgers fan. It started with a frustrating offensive showing against Johnny Cueto in San Francisco, and eventually a lifeless 5-0 loss that felt even worse than it was. The offense has been boom or bust, struggling to find consistency with an ever-changing lineup battling injuries. An extra utility bat that plays good defense would sure go a long way. David Price wasn’t sharp, continuing to highlight LA’s need for starting pitching help.
Andrew Friedman clearly felt the same way but looked as if he had failed in his attempt to trade for the best starting pitcher on the market during the early innings of Thursday’s game. When Ken Rosenthal reported that Max Scherzer was likely headed to San Diego, there was a sudden sense of worry washing over Dodgers’ fans – even those of us who have assumed all season that “the boys will eventually figure it out and win the division”. Suddenly, “What if they don’t?” was an even more legitimate question and one that suddenly foretold a scenario in which the Dodgers would face Scherzer in a one game Wild Card playoff *gulp*.
In a matter of a few hours, the story changed completely – evidently, the Dodgers had upped the ante in an attempt to overtake the Padres. First, it was reported they were “still in on Scherzer”, and then suddenly they were close.
Before long, the picture became clearer: the Dodgers were pushing their chips to the center of the table. It wasn’t just going to be Max Scherzer, the 3-time Cy Young award winner anymore. As if that wasn’t enough, the Dodgers suddenly appeared poised to acquire one of the game’s best position players in Trea Turner, a perfect fit with the ability to play shortstop, second base, and center field. Turner has hit .330 since the beginning of 2020 with 30 homers, 33 stolen bases, and 90 RBIs despite hitting from the leadoff spot in the Nationals’ lineup.
The Dodgers are certainly paying the price for two assets as valuable as Scherzer and Turner, with Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray headlining a group of 4 prospects heading back to Washington. Keibert figures to be Washington’s franchise catcher through at least 2027, and most within the game believe he has potential to be a perennial All-Star as a switch-hitting backstop.
Josiah Gray finally cracked the big league club with the Dodgers in the past two weeks and showed why scouts are so high on his abilities as well. Giving up players of this quality is often harder to swallow than fans realize at the time – it would be a surprise to nobody within the industry if both Gray and Ruiz became household names in D.C. for years to come. If you’re going to deal them, though, this is the type of trade worthy of the risk – especially in one of the most competitive division races you’ll ever see.
And so, even after a deflating series in San Francisco that ended with a whimper, the Dodgers head to Arizona feeling about as good about the future as possible – and why shouldn’t they? They’ve kept their heads relatively above water through the middle part of the season, despite injuries to MVP and Cy Young winners all over the roster. Mookie Betts is expected to return Sunday, with Corey Seager’s return expected this weekend as well. Max Scherzer is expected to start during the home series with the Astros, and Clayton Kershaw is expected to return in the weekend that follows against Anaheim. Trea Turner enters the fold sometime within the next few weeks as well once he’s cleared from Covid protocols as well.
Within all of the excitement around the deadline and the Astros series at Dodger Stadium coming next week, it can be easy to overlook this weekend’s series in Arizona. We don’t know much about the pitching matchups yet, but let’s take a look at the weekend ahead anyway.
Friday, July 30
6:40 pm PT
Tony Gonsolin (2-1, 2.38 ERA) vs Zac Gallen (1-5, 4.80 ERA)
There’s certainly a different buzz around the Dodgers as they begin the series with Arizona on Friday night. They’ll send Tony Gonsolin to the mound, fresh off his most successful start of 2021 last weekend against the Rockies (5.1 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs). It marks the third time Gonsolin has seen the Diamondbacks this season, a team he’s seen consistent success against since his frustrating MLB debut at Chase Field in 2019. He’s totaled 7.2 innings this season in the matchup, allowing 2 runs – one of which was driven in by Eduardo Escobar, now a Milwaukee Brewer.
Eduardo Escobar’s departure is a huge deal in general, given the first time All-Star’s torture of the Dodgers this season (8 RBI in 10 games). The Diamondbacks are in full rebuild mode, with Friday’s starter Zac Gallen at the center of their plans moving forward. Gallen had looked like an ace early in the season, pitching to a sterling 2.16 ERA over 3 starts in April to build off a strong 2020 campaign. Since returning from injury, though, he’s struggled mightily – his June ERA of 5.11 led to a July ERA of 8.49 to this point. He had a disastrous start at Wrigley last time out, allowing 7 runs in 4 innings of work. The Dodgers will look to keep that trend going and start a hot streak as they head toward August.
Saturday, July 31
5:10 pm PT
TBD vs Merrill Kelly (7-7, 4.39 ERA)
Josiah Gray was supposed to start for the Dodgers on Saturday – at this point, the plan is for him to be a Washington National by then. I have no idea what the Dodgers’ pitching plans are in his place, but a bullpen game is certainly possible.
The Dodgers do know they’ll be facing Merrill Kelly, a 32-year old having a very solid season for Arizona despite the team’s struggles. Kelly pitched well at Dodger Stadium on July 11, allowing only a single run over 5.1 innings and picking up where he left off with a very strong start at Dodger Stadium on May 20. Kelly has pitched to a 3.41 ERA in July, going 3-0 while facing strong lineups in the Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, and pre-deadline Cubs. The Dodgers will need a strong outing from whoever pitches for them, and their lineup will need to grind Kelly down and keep him from working deep into another game if they want to avoid the upset on Saturday.
Sunday, August 1
1:10 pm PT
TBD vs Caleb Smith (3-7, 4.61 ERA)
Before his last start against the Dodgers, I wrote about how dominant Caleb Smith had been in the matchup previously. The Dodgers clearly read what I wrote and took offense to it, so I take full credit for what transpired thereafter – a 9 run, 1 inning outburst en route to a 22-1 drubbing. Smith was more effective against the Pirates on July 19 picking up a win while allowing 2 runs over 6.2 innings before struggling again with the Cubs last weekend. All in all, it’s a 9.61 ERA for Caleb Smith in July.
If the Dodgers get the Caleb Smith they saw on July 10, it should be Sunday Funday in Arizona – for my money, though, I wouldn’t rule out a return to form that stymies the Dodgers for 5-6 innings, either. The Dodgers still rank 18th in wRC+ vs left-handed pitching and 27th in batting average, numbers that get even worse on the road.
There are no easy wins – and in a series between bouts with San Francisco and Houston, the Dodgers will need to avoid overlooking Arizona this weekend while engaged in a tight division race.