Last Updated: 2017-10-05
Perception has gotten kind of low on the team that had the best record in baseball throughout most of the season. It seems like a lot of people have forgotten about what the Los Angeles Dodgers did for the majority of the year and have chosen to focus on what they did for a few-week stretch when they nearly gave up their grasp on home field advantage for as long as they go in the playoffs. The Arizona Diamondbacks will be the National League Division Series opponent for the Dodgers after taking care of business against the Colorado Rockies, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
We don’t have a series price at time of writing, but I would expect the Dodgers to be well over -200, with a number likely in the -240 to -250 range, especially with how the Wild Card Game played out for the Diamondbacks, as they had to burn Robbie Ray and won’t be able to use Zack Greinke until probably Game 3.
Here is the schedule for the series and the pitching probables (per my guesses):
Game 1 @ LAD: October 6, 10:30 p.m. ET; Godley vs. Kershaw
Game 2 @ LAD: October 7, 9 p.m. ET; Walker vs. Hill
Game 3 @ ARI: October 9, TBD; Darvish vs. Greinke
Game 4 @ ARI: October 10, TBD; Wood vs. Ray
Game 5 @ LAD: October 12, TBD; Godley vs. Kershaw
Again, this is my speculation on how the Diamondbacks will set things up. At time of writing, no rotation had been announced, but with Zack Greinke throwing 58 pitches and Robbie Ray at 34, I would assume those guys are pushed deeper into the series.
There’s a misconception out there that the Diamondbacks are a really great offensive ballclub. They are solid, but they have gotten extremely good outcomes in high-leverage situations. Overall, the Diamondbacks ranked eighth in wOBA at .329 during the season, but ranked fifth with runners in scoring position at .340. Early on in the season, Arizona was posting an unsustainable BABIP with runners in scoring position. That leveled off a little bit. They are a well above average offensive group, but I think there is a disconnect between perception and reality here.
Furthermore, and this is very relevant to this series, the Diamondbacks had pronounced platoon splits. Against right-handed pitching, the Diamondbacks posted a .335 wOBA. A lot of that was influenced by a healthy offensive park factor at Chase Field, as the team’s wRC+ of 99 was right around league average. Drawing Clayton Kershaw twice in this series, and potentially Rich Hill twice, is a bad situation for the Diamondbacks. They were 20th in wOBA against left-handed pitching. Only six teams struck out in a higher percentage of plate appearances against lefties and none of them made the playoffs. While there are good pieces and parts to this lineup, I do worry that their offense is being overvalued.
The Dodgers only finished one one-thousandth of a point better in the wOBA department at .330. Given the talent and the versatility in the Dodgers’ lineup, this is a massive case of underachieving. The park factor plays a role, and the team’s wRC+ of 104 ranked among the top five in baseball, but this is a team that didn’t maximize having the best BB% in baseball. Still, the patience and plate discipline of the Dodgers as a whole will be interesting against the Diamondbacks pitching staff. Los Angeles should have chances to score runs. The Diamondbacks should as well. After all, they scored 42 more runs than the Dodgers, but the splits would seem to favor the Dodgers in this case.
I’d give the Dodgers a small edge offensively, mostly because of the matchups.
Which carries over into this section. Look, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. He has also struggled in the postseason. I’m more inclined to respect the 1,935-inning sample size in the regular season than the 89-inning sample size in the postseason. However, all of that being said, at what point can we consider this a mental thing for Kershaw? Or is that point already here? What I see is a dude that has gotten unlikely at the worst of times. He’s only allowed 76 hits in 89 innings. He has 106 strikeouts against 27 walks. He’s given up 10 home runs, but you’re also facing a lot of the best hitters that baseball has to offer.
Rich Hill is solid. The scariest part about the Dodgers is their depth. They have the ability to go six-deep in the rotation if they want to. Obviously they won’t and will put some of the depth starters in the bullpen, but it’s hard to argue with the 3.39 ERA, 3.74 FIP, and 3.74 xFIP put up by this rotation during the regular season. Yu Darvish has not been himself down the stretch, and that may be the swing game of the series, so I do have some concerns about that.
On the flip side, I’m not sure people realize just how good this Diamondbacks rotation was. That group ranked second to the Indians in fWAR and the Indians have one of the best pitching staffs in MLB history. Arizona’s starting staff struck out well over a batter per inning and posted a 3.61 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 3.77 xFIP in a far less forgiving pitching environment than Dodger Stadium. Here’s the problem, though. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray both pitched in the Wild Card Game. Their NLDS availability defines the ceiling for the Diamondbacks.
I’ve been a huge Zack Godley honk this season and he was outstanding across 25 starts with a 3.40 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, and a 3.34 xFIP. Taijuan Walker posted a 3.49 ERA with a 4.04 FIP and a 4.34 xFIP. Robbie Ray had a sub-3.00 ERA with strong peripherals and a huge strikeout rate. Unfortunately, we see the incentive for winning the division on display here. While the Diamondbacks have good depth as well, they have to tap into it very early on. Despite the success for Godley, Walker, Ray, and Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke is the most trustworthy starter on the staff and he will probably only be utilized once in this series because of his Wild Card Game start.
The Dodgers have the thinnest of edges because of that, but I can honestly say that Kershaw’s playoff struggles, Hill’s injury woes, Darvish’s complete fall from grace, and the late-season performance and injuries for Alex Wood do concern me more than I anticipated coming into this preview.
Bullpens are so important in Major League Baseball. The Diamondbacks are lacking in this series in this area. While Archie Bradley has turned himself into an exceptional relief weapon and Andrew Chafin is a solid matchup lefty, the Diamondbacks have a bunch of guys in the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is terrifying as a closer and a lot of the other guys have fringy stuff. This is a big problem area for the Diamondbacks. We’ll see which starter heads to the bullpen to provide support. It will probably be Patrick Corbin, who doesn’t really have a significant upside in a bullpen capacity.
The Dodgers have the best closer in the game in Kenley Jansen. The resurgence of Brandon Morrow has been awesome to see for anybody that knows his injury history. The Dodgers have some great middle relief arms in Josh Fields and Tony Cingrani. They can also utilize guys like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and Brandon McCarthy in a relief capacity if they want. There’s also Walker Buehler, who has stuff for days, if he can harness it. Alex Wood could also be a weapon if he isn’t in line to start in this series.
I’d give the edge to the Dodgers in this area.
I love what the Diamondbacks have done and what they have done in short order. Embracing analytics with new GM Mike Hazen and bringing in a guy receptive to big data in Torey Lovullo, who was in both the Indians and Red Sox organizations, has paid big dividends for this team. They have found inefficiencies to exploit with their personnel in-house and I love teams that are able to do that. That all being said, Lovullo is a playoff rookie. Not that Dave Roberts has a wealth of experience, and his decision-making in the playoffs has raised some eyebrows, but the learning curve of the high-stress, high-leverage environment of the postseason cannot be taken lightly.
The Diamondbacks profiled as a good defensive team, but it never really played out. By the plus/minus defensive runs saved counting system, the Dodgers were second in the league with 48 DRS and the Diamondbacks were 17th with five. UZR also disliked the Diamondbacks, who ranked 25th. The Dodgers were sixth.
One advantage that the Diamondbacks do have is on the mental side. They aren’t supposed to be here. They’re playing with house money. While that isn’t the mentality of the team, it is the reality of the team. The Dodgers, on the other hand, aren’t just happy to be there and see what happens when the dice are rolled or the wheel is spun. This is a team that is built with one goal in mind – winning a World Series. This is a World Series caliber payroll. There are no moral victories. There are no silver linings. The expectations and the pressure on the Dodgers in that capacity is a lot to handle, especially with guys that, on an individual level, have gotten here and failed. That is a big burden to carry around in the Tournament of Variance and I think that could have a negative impact.
Series Pick: Los Angeles Dodgers
With no price, it’s hard to say whether or not this price will be worth it or not. What I do know is that a sterling outing from Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 could set a sweep in motion. If he can lead by example, then the Dodgers can make things quick. I like the Diamondbacks a lot and I’ve probably painted them in too negative of a light in this preview, but I think people have lost sight of just how good the Dodgers are. I don’t know if that lasts for long.
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