2017 NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks could be an epic series

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For (at least) the 20th, 21st and 22nd times this season, the Dodgers (104-68) and Diamondbacks (93-69) will go head-to-head. This time, it’ll happen in the National League Division Series. Arizona won the season series 11-8, aided by winning six in a row against LA to close the head-to-head matchup.

Here’s how the two teams stack up against each other:

By The Numbers

Offense Dodgers Diamondbacks
Runs/Game 4.75 5.01
AVG .249 .254
OBP .334 .329
SLG .437 .445
wRC+ 104 95
HR 221 220
SB 77 103
BB% 10.5 9.3
K% 22.3 23.4
Exit Velo 87.6 87.3

It’s no surprise the D’backs have a more potent offense in terms of runs scored, but the Dodgers bested them in every other category above except batting average (lol), slugging percentage and stolen bases.

But Arizona’s offense got even better when they effectively stole J.D. Martinez from the Tigers on July 18. Martinez hit 29 home runs for the Snakes in 60 games. That’s downright incredible. Paul Goldschmidt hit 36 in 155 games and Jake Lamb hit 30 in 149 games, for context. Despite their prowess, including 11 runs against the Rockies in the Wild Card Game, the D’backs struggled mightily against left-handed pitching for most of the season. They produced just an 85 wRC+ against southpaws. But since Martinez’s acquisition, Arizona had baseball’s 9th-best wRC+ against lefties at 105. And the guy who struggled against lefties all season was Lamb, except against the Dodgers. He hit three home runs against Dodger left-handers this season and just two more against the rest of baseball’s lefties.

The Dodgers’ offense was clicking for four months until the end of August rolled around. From the time Cody Bellinger debuted on April 25 through Aug. 25, the Dodgers had baseball’s second-best wRC+ at 113 and joined the Astros as baseball’s only teams with an OPS better than .800 and ISO better than .200. It was a legitimately good offense. From Aug. 26 through the end of the season, the offense produced just an 83 wRC+, a .688 OPS and a .164 ISO. Injuries, regression, fatigue and rest played into the diminished offensive performance, and there are a couple of legitimate concerns (left field, second base), but if the guys play to their expected level of performance, the offense should be just fine.

Starting Pitching Dodgers Diamondbacks
ERA 3.39 3.61
FIP 3.74 3.71
xFIP 3.74 3.77
K% 25.2 25.0
BB% 7.1 8.3
SwStr% 11.7 11.6
BAA .229 .238
HR/9 1.16 1.06
Exit Velo 86.0 86.6

The Dodgers hold the advantage in almost every category except FIP and home runs per nine innings, the latter of which is a bit surprising. But seeing as home runs were up league-wide, I guess it isn’t that surprising.

Depth was the name of the game for the Dodgers this season, and their starting staff is no exception. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu are a formidable 1 through 5. And all five should make the NLDS roster, but the team won’t need five starters for a 5-game series. The Dodgers have the luxury of starting either Wood or Ryu in Game 4 (or Kershaw on short rest, if they’re down 1-2), but the 1 through 3 is set with Kershaw, Hill and Darvish.

The Diamondbacks saw their starting pitching plans change slightly after the … wild … Wild Card Game. Zack Greinke only made it through 3 2/3 innings and 58 pitches, meaning he could appear before his regularly scheduled Game 3 start. Robbie Ray was lined up to start Game 1 against Kershaw, but he was used on Wednesday for 2 1/3 innings and 34 pitches, meaning he might also get the call for Game 2. If I had to guess, I’d say Ray gets Game 2 and Greinke gets Game 3. It’s not a great precedent for the D’backs to set in the first game of the postseason (Ray pitching on shortish rest), but they did what they felt was right to try to win the 50/50 game.

As for Game 1, here’s how the D’backs’ options break down:

It’s probably safe to assume Corbin is out, not just because of the numbers but also because he’s the third-best pitcher of this trio. So, it comes down to the righties. We’ll know before too long, but I’d expect Walker to get the ball. He has the best stuff and higher upside, but he won’t be expected to go more than five innings (as is the trend these days).

Relief Pitching Dodgers Diamondbacks
ERA 3.38 3.78
FIP 3.55 3.95
xFIP 3.64 4.04
K% 27.7 23.3
BB% 8.0 8.9
SwStr% 14.2 11.0
BAA .220 .236
HR/9 1.13 1.08
Exit Velo 85.0 87.3

The Dodgers’ bullpen is better overall, anchored by Kenley Jansen. Brandon Morrow, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson will help form the bridge to get the ball to Jansen. Wood might also be in the ‘pen, which could be a big boost. Kenta Maeda will absolutely be an option.

On the Arizona side, Fernando Rodney is the closer. He’s not exactly one to have a clean ninth inning, so there could be some fireworks in store. Archie Bradley is Arizona’s best reliever, and he might be one of its best hitters (see the Wild Card Game). The rest of the bullpen is solid but certainly beatable (probably the same thing people say about the rest of the Dodgers’ bullpen).

Head-To-Head

The Dodgers won the first two games of the season series before losing four in a row. The Dodgers won six of the next seven, including a wild walk-off win against Rodney on July 6.

“So obviously down by three runs going into their final three outs, things seemed rather doomed, but the Dodgers had one final shot at things and they took advantage. Things started with a Yasiel Puig single, and Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger walks to load the bases with nobody out. Forsythe then followed with a walk on four pitches to score a run and cut the lead to 4-2. Corey Seager then followed through with a gigantic hit in a single up the middle to drive in two and tie the game. After an intentional walk to Justin Turner, that was the merciful end of things for Fernando Rodney, but Chris Taylor didn’t waste any time on ending it against the new pitcher, driving the first pitch he saw to left for a “single” to win it.”

It was one of the crazier games of the season for both teams, but especially the Dodgers. It finished off a 3-game sweep and improved their record to 58-29.

The Dodgers took two of three in early August in Phoenix, and the one loss came on an improbable grand slam by Lamb. After that, it was all D’backs. They won the final six games by a combined score of 40-13. It was a thorough drubbing.

Rosters

Note: Rosters are not yet official.

Dodgers

Starting Pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Relief Pitchers (8): Pedro Baez, Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields, Kenley Jansen, Kenta Maeda, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Alex Wood
Catchers (3): Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal, Kyle Farmer
Infielders (5): Cody Bellinger, Logan Forsythe, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chase Utley
Outfielders (5): Andre Ethier, Curtis GrandersonEnrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor

The Dodgers were baseball’s second-best team in terms of defensive runs saved. They totaled 48, just three behind the Tampa Bay Rays. Bellinger is a near-elite defender at first, Forsythe is an above-average defender at second, Seager’s metrics have always been positive and Turner is solid as a rock at third.

In the outfield, Puig is one of the game’s best right fielders, Taylor has been solid in center and a platoon of Granderson and Hernandez is just fine in left field.

Diamondbacks

Starting Pitchers (4): Zack Godley, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker
Relief Pitchers (7): Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Patrick Corbin, Jorge De La Rosa, David Hernandez, Fernando Rodney, Jimmie Sherfy
Catchers (3): Chris Iannetta, Chris Herrmann, Jeff Mathis
Infielders (6): Daniel Descalso, Brandon Drury, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, Ketel Marte, Adam Rosales
Outfielders (5): Gregor Blanco, Rey Fuentes, J.D. Martinez, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock

It’s the same roster as the Wild Card Game, except Walker is in for Kristopher Negron, as the D’backs needed an extra pitcher.

Arizona was more middle-of-the-pack defensively, sporting 5 DRS. Goldschmidt is solid at first, the second base platoon of Descalso and Drury is decent, Marte is a good young shortstop and Lamb is one of the worst full-time third basemen by DRS (-13). In the outfield, Peralta is good in left (with a strong arm), Pollock is well above-average in center and Martinez was surprisingly average in right field (an improvement from his time in Detroit).

Likely Lineups

Dodgers vs. RHP

Taylor CF
Seager SS
Turner 3B
Bellinger 1B
Granderson LF
Puig RF
Grandal C
Utley 2B

Dodgers vs. LHP

Taylor CF
Seager SS
Turner 3B
Bellinger 1B
Forsythe 2B
Barnes C
Hernandez LF
Puig RF

Diamondbacks vs. RHP

Peralta LF
Marte SS
Goldschmidt 1B
Martinez RF
Lamb 3B
Pollock CF
Descalso 2B
Herrmann C

Diamondbacks vs. LHP

Peralta LF
Iannetta C
Goldschmidt 1B
Martinez RF
Pollock CF
Drury 2B
Lamb 3B
Marte SS

X-Factor

Who’s the one player on each side — not a superstar — who could help determine the outcome of this series?

Curtis Granderson

With Ray getting pushed back at least one game, Granderson should start Game 1 in left field. He got off to a good start with the Dodgers but completely fell off a cliff for a month. From Aug. 26 through Sept. 17, he hit just .088/.224/.140, but he finished by hitting .281/.343/.625 and has shown an ability in the postseason to come up big (See: 2015 NLDS). He’s not starter material against left-handed pitching anymore, but he’ll run into a home run every once in a while against southpaws.

Chris Iannetta

If there’s a non-Goldschmidt or Martinez player who hurt the Dodgers this season, it was Iannetta. He hit .306/.444/.667 with four home runs in 45 plate appearances against the Dodgers this season. He also hit .300/.404/.563 against left-handed pitching, of which the Dodgers have no shortage.

——

On paper, this looks like it’s going to be a hell of a series. The familiarity plays into both teams’ favor a bit here, but what happened in the regular season isn’t as important as many make it out to be. The Dodgers finished 11 games ahead of the D’backs, but Arizona played some strong ball down the stretch.

T-minus 35 1/2 hours. Are you ready?

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.