The Dodgers filed exempt for the beginning of the 2012 MLB season, but everyone knows at some point the taxman comes to collect. This is going to be the first real challenge for the Dodgers (depending on your opinion of Erik Bedard). Information taken from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.Tuesday, April 17: Yovani Gallardo (R)
The toughest pitcher the Dodgers have faced since 2011, Gallardo has been very good for his last three campaigns. After a rough first start against the Cardinals in which he allowed four home runs and was removed in the fourth inning, Gallardo was back to his old self, striking out 6 Cubs over 7 innings for his first victory. For his career, Gallardo has struck out over a hitter per inning while walking 3.5 per 9 innings.
Gallardo features a three pitch repertoire, using a 92mph fastball (50% of the time), an 80mph curveball (18%) and an 87mph slider (27%). His curveball is regarded as one of the best in the game, and he does a great job of keeping it down and away from both left- and right-handed hitters, as you can see here. Gallardo doesn't throw anything with arm-side action, nothing he can run in on a righty or away from a lefty. This reflects itself in Gallardo's career splits. For his career, right-handed hitters have a .675 OPS against, while lefties have a .720 OPS against. He's certainly a dominant pitcher, but he allows left-handed hitters to keep him from joining the ranks of the elite.
What To Watch For: Gallardo's fastball is down over a mile per hour so far this season, but his offspeed pitches are maintaining their velocity. This results in a narrowing of the speed differential between fastball and offspeed pitches, which could cause a hitter to guess wrong on the pitch, but still make very good contact if the pitch isn't located well.
What Does It Mean?: Could this be the game that sees James Loney break out? Probably not. Loney's issues are more about Loney than who he is facing. If anyone has a chance to continue his hot hitting, it's got to be Andre Ethier, but I think the fact that Gallardo doesn't change speeds very much could leave the door open for a good game by the Juans.
Wednesday, April 18: Zack Greinke (R)
The toughest pitcher the Dodgers have faced since the day before, Greinke will be a true challenge for the Dodgers. Greinke is in a contract year, coming off a spring training for the ages, has had a rough start to the 2012 season. Greinke has pulled a Reverse-Gallardo, starting his season off with a 7 inning, 7 strikeout, 0 walk, 4 hit performance against the Cardinals, then allowing 8 runs against the Cubs, also not making it out of the fourth inning. He's maintained his high strikeout total and has issued only one walk this year, which make his FIP and xFIP 0.94 and 1.59, respectively, despite a 6.75 ERA.
Greinke attacks the strike zone with a 93mph fastball (20.6%), 85mph slider (17%), 70mph curveball (9%), 93mph two-seam fastball (27%), and 91mph cutter (23%). What's interesting are the percentages of his fastballs: the four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter. Greinke has never thrown a cutter before, but it was reported before spring training that he would be working on it. He's always had an elite fastball and slider, Greinke is trying to incorporate much more movement into his rotation. It didn't work for Chad Billingsley, but Chad Billingsley has never been a Zack Greinke.
What To Watch For?: Against most elite pitchers, you hope your hitters can work the count, get the pitch count up, and get to the bullpen as soon as possible and take your chances against lesser pitchers. Zack Greinke doesn't let you do that. He's going to attack the strike zone with all twelve of his pitches, and hitters are going to have to try to catch a fastball early in the count, otherwise they'll be at Greinke's mercy.
What Does It Mean?: It means a long day for our right-handed hitters, and a longer day for Chris Capuano. Matt Kemp is going to have to make Greinke elevate his offspeed pitches if he wants to have a chance.
Thursday, April 19: Randy Wolf (L)
Thank goodness for Randy Wolf. After Gallardo and Greinke, Wolf is going to be like Christmas in April. Randy Wolf is still Randy Wolf, relying on a big looping 67mph curve (15%), an 80mph slider (13%) and an 87mph two-seam fastball (54%).
What To Watch For?:Wolf gets hitters out by getting them to chase offspeed pitches off the plate, and by lulling them to sleep with offspeed pitches enough to sneak a fastball by them. This pitching term is called "speeding up their bats". It usually works when a pitcher tries to establish a fastball and get the hitter caught up to the fastball, then throwing an offspeed pitch that is slow enough and with enough movement that the hitters is out in front. We've all seen this from any number of pitchers. Wolf works the opposite way. He'll get a hitter looking for his offspeed pitch, get him waiting back on the pitch to read the break, then throwing a fastball with two strikes. Because the hitter was trying to be patient and read the spin, by the time he realizes it's a fastball, even at 87 miles per hour, the best case scenario for the hitter is a foul ball, and worst case is a swinging strike.
What Does It Mean?: Fireworks aren't scheduled until Friday's game but we could see some here. With how hot Matt Kemp has been, Wolf could be a goat by the end of this game.