The Dodgers in the National League Division Series are facing the Diamondbacks, a team with which they are intimately familiar, having played 13 times this season. Let’s look at what, if anything, we can take away from the regular season battles between Los Angeles and Arizona.
The Dodgers won eight of 13 games against the D-backs this season, which can be split into two parts, which seem worlds apart. Arizona and LA played eight times in the first 10 games of the season. They split four games at Dodger Stadium to start the year, the Arizona took three out of four games the next weekend at Chase Field, serving notice that the Diamondbacks were a team to be reckoned with in 2023.
Arizona spent 66 days in first place this season, all before the All-Star break. After that, the Dodgers pulled away from the pack, especially with a dominant 24-5 August that included five wins over the Diamondbacks, two in Phoenix and three in Los Angeles.
Looking back at the arms used in the first week and a half is a checklist of the fallen. Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner each started twice, both long since dispatched. Dustin May started twice in those games, and had elbow surgery a month later. Zack Davies started twice and didn’t last the season with Arizona. Julio Urías started opening day and is now on administrative leave under MLB investigation, his likeness nowhere visible at Dodger Stadium.
Merrill Kelly starts Game 1 for the D-backs, and he’s never beaten the Dodgers in 16 career starts. He’s 0-11 with a 5.49 ERA against LA, but it’s not that simple. The Dodgers absolutely tattooed Kelly in 2022, hanging him with five losses and six home runs with an 8.25 ERA. This year the Dodgers have won three of his four starts against them, but Kelly had a 3.98 ERA with no homers allowed. Two of his starts this year against LA were scoreless, though the Dodgers did chase him with four walks and 74 pitches in 3⅔ innings in one of those scoreless outings, back on March 31.
Zac Gallen closed out the Brewers on Wednesday, and is in line to start Game 2 against the Dodgers on Monday. The Dodgers tagged him for five runs in 4⅔ innings on opening day, and homered four times off him, plating six runs in 5⅓ innings on August 28. Outside of those two losses in two starts against the Dodgers, Gallen had a 3.15 ERA in 32 starts. Gallen on the season walked three or more batters only five times, including both starts against LA.
Rookie Brandon Pfaadt, who started Game 1 against Milwaukee, lost both starts to the Dodgers this year, allowing 10 runs (nine earned) in 8⅔ innings in August.
Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, had a 3.18 ERA in three starts against Arizona this season. He allowed one run in each of his wins at Dodger Stadium, and allowed four runs in a loss at Chase Field on April 7.
Bobby Miller pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in a scoreless start on August 9 in Phoenix. He allowed four runs in six innings to Arizona at home on August 28, but got the win thanks to the Dodgers offense against Gallen.
If you’re keeping track at home, the Dodgers won five of six games against the D-backs started by Kershaw, Miller, or Pepiot, with four of the wins against Kelly, Gallen, and Pfaadt.
There will be many more innings besides the starting pitchers, though, and Arizona’s bullpen got 28 outs without allowing a run against Milwaukee. The Dodgers would do well to give that D-backs bullpen many more chances to see if that holds up.
Men of steal
One of the takeaways from the Dodgers dropping five of eight games to the D-backs in March and April was how athletic Arizona was. They ran all over the Dodgers, stealing 12 bases without getting caught in those eight games.
Only three were against Noah Syndergaard, the worst pitcher in the majors at holding runners throughout his career. It can’t all be pinned on the Dodgers jettisoning Syndergaard, but they have shown vast improvement with runners on base as the season progressed.
In the first 81 games of the season, the Dodgers allowed 101 steals, worst in the majors, at an 88.6-percent clip. Even removing Syndergaard’s 20 steals allowed, Dodgers pitchers would have been third-worst in giving up steals in the first half of the season.
But in the last 81 games, Dodgers pitchers have allowed only 41 stolen bases, second-fewest in the majors, at a 71.9-percent clip.
Most of the worst Dodgers pitchers at holding runners are gone, including Phil Bickford (11 steals in only 42 innings with LA). Julio Urías (11 steals, an anomaly for him). Shelby Miller allowed eight steals in nine attempts in only 42 innings, but has allowed only one steal in 11 appearances since returning from the injured list. It helps that he has only allowed eight of 43 batters to reach base during that time.
In the five Dodgers-Diamondbacks games in August, Arizona stole only two bases in three attempts. Both steals came against Dodgers named Ryan (Brasier and Pepiot).
On the flip side, keep an eye on Mookie Betts during the playoffs. He hasn’t stolen more than 14 bases in a season in his four years with the Dodgers, totaling 46 steals in 471 games, an average of 16 stolen bases per 162 games. He picks his spots over the long season. But in the postseason, Betts has 12 steals (in 13 attempts) in 34 games, an average of 57 steals per 162 games.
Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno has thrown out 39 percent of runners trying to steal, with only 35 steals in 93 starts behind the plate. It might be tough to run if he’s behind the plate for Arizona.