Dodgers @ Nationals July 3, 2021: Kershaw vs. Espino

After a 10-5 win last night, the Dodgers (51-31) have now won seven in a row and positioned themselves just half a game back in the NL West, trailing just the San Francisco Giants (51-30). They’ve been streaky this year, as they’ve had two separate eight game winning streaks already, so they’ll look to tie that tonight as they play the third of four games against the Nationals (40-40). They won the game against Max Scherzer, so hopefully they can manage to win these next two games as they have the pitching advantage in both. Tonight features Clayton Kershaw against the right-handed Paolo Espino.

Image Image
4:15 PM Washington D.C.
RF Betts 2B Harrison
2B Muncy (L) RF Soto (L)
3B Turner 1B Zimmerman
CF Bellinger (L) 3B Castro
C Smith C Gomes
1B Pujols LF Parra (L)
SS Lux (L) SS Escobar
LF Pollock CF Robles
P Kershaw (L) P Espino (R)

In order to get Chris Taylor a day off, Max Muncy slides over to cover second base as AJ Pollock starts in left field over Matt Beaty, while Albert Pujols starts at first base. Beaty has a .738 OPS and 113 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, compared to that of Pujols who is at a .450 OPS and 25 wRC+. For example, Julio Urias has a .516 OPS and a 42 wRC+, while Kershaw has a .526 OPS and a 52 wRC+. It seems like the team is hitting well enough to beat a Nationals offense missing Kyle Schwarber. Plus, Will Smith is starting over Austin Barnes which negates having Pujols start. Against right-handed pitching, the Dodgers feature the second ranked wRC+ at 117, trailing only the Houston Astros who have been red hot offensively.

The Nationals have had success against left-handed pitching, with a 105 wRC+ and .747 OPS against them, both good for ninth in baseball. They managed to score three runs (only one earned run) against Urías yesterday on three hits and three walks.

The game tomorrow is at 8:05 AM PDT, which is just dumb. It’d be nice to put some runs up tonight to be able to get some guys rest before an early game.

——

Here’s how Kershaw and Espino matchup.

The 34 year-old Espino has thrown just 65.2 innings in the majors in his career, compared to 1500.1 innings in the minor leagues since 2007. Espino has made just three starts this season, making up 14.1 of his 35.2 innings pitched, with the rest coming coming in his other fifteen appearances. It’s good to see him finally get a shot as a big-leaguer. Of 276 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, his 89.4 MPH average fastball velocity ranks 260th. Most pitchers are more effective with higher velocity, but it’s not a requirement as Espino has obviously found a way to be successful despite his most frequently thrown pitch (58.7%) averaging below 90 MPH. He mixes in a curveball and slider as his main offspeed offerings. He’s had a 4.07 FIP and 0.98 WHIP as a starter, allowing a .668 OPS, resulting in a 1.26 ERA. Whether or not he’s been lucky based off his peripherals, he’s been effective. Last time out, he went five innings allowing just five hits with three strikeouts against the Mets. The Dodgers should be able to hit him, but he does feel like the kind of pitcher they struggle against.

Last time out, Kershaw was excellent. He allowed one earned run on four hits and a walk while striking out thirteen across eight innings. Overall, he’s been great. His relatively “pedestrian” 3.25 ERA is his only “mediocre” stat, as amongst qualified starters, he’s sixth in fWAR at 2.8, ninth in FIP at 2.88, fourth in xFIP at 2.84, sixth in SIERA at 2.98, and seventh in DRA at 3.05. All advanced stats carry their own issues, but ranking close to the top five in every single metric is usually a good sign. Those are all also his lowest since his 2016 season. His .280 BABIP is also the highest since his 2015 season, so it’s possible that plays a small role as well. After allowing five earned runs in two consecutive starts on 5/30 and 6/5, he’s bounced back in his four most recent outings. Since then he’s had a 2.08 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and a 0.88 WHIP, with 38 strikeouts and four walks in 26 innings. That’s 13.15 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 36.9% strikeout rate with a 3.9% walk rate. He’ll look to continue that run of form against a Nationals offense that is solid against left-handed pitching.

——

In regards to Scherzer potentially being available on the trade market, the Dodgers don’t need him and I doubt for some reason he’d approve being traded to the team, but we’ve seen what having dominant starters can do in the postseason. He threw thirty innings in the Nationals World Series run in 2019, with a 2.40 ERA. He’s having a great year, and if the right deal came around, who knows. Just a thought.

Chad makes another good point here, in the idea that Smith does look like an All-Star, so it’s possible that the Dodgers wouldn’t need to keep Keibert Ruiz if the right deal came around, but it’s also tough to trade a catcher of his talent level. Catchers with his potential are rare.

——

Having Scott Alexander back would be a very welcomed addition to a bullpen that can always use help. The left-handed groundball expert serves a very important purpose in specific situations, besides being an impactful big league reliever.

Edwin Uceta and David Price covering more innings in the near future makes sense.

Also maybe as the season progresses, top prospect Josiah Gray could be added to the team to provide an electric arm in either the bullpen or as a starter, but it’s not a consideration at the moment as he recovers from his injury.

——–

First pitch is at 4:15 PM PDT on Fox.

About Allan Yamashige

Just a guy living in Southern California, having a good time writing about baseball. Hated baseball practice as a kid, but writing about it rules. Thanks for reading!