Dodgers @ Reds June 23, 2022: Season sweep on the line with Kershaw on the mound

After dropping the series at home to the Guardians this past weekend, the Dodgers are one victory away from a sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati which would also make it a 7-0 season sweep and 9 straight dating back to last September. Now a bad way to start off a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, especially with a trip to Atlanta up next as Freddie Freeman returns to the city he spent about 12 years playing in.

As for finishing off this Reds series, the Dodgers (42-25) enter Thursday tied for first in the NL West with San Diego (44-27) and trail the Mets (45-26) by just a game in the National League’s standings. After scoring 15 runs in a four-game stretch against the Angels and Guardians, which you could go further and make it 21 runs in 8 games, the pair of 8-run games against the NL’s worst team was a welcome sight with Mookie Betts sidelined.

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9:35 AM Cincinnati
SS T. Turner DH India
1B Freeman (L) 1B Drury
DH Smith LF Pham
2B Muncy (L) SS Farmer
RF Taylor 3B Solano
3B J. Turner 2B Reynolds
LF Lux (L) RF Almora
CF Bellinger (L) CF Senzel
C Barnes C Okey
P Kershaw (L) P Greene (R)

When you suddenly score 16 runs in two games, naturally there’s going to be at least a few guys who have impressive numbers in a that very condensed sample size.

Will Smith is one of them, hitting 8-for-17 in the past four games with a homer, a walk and two runs scored. Somewhat out of necessity, he stays in the lineup at DH with Austin Barnes catching Clayton Kershaw. Also doing well at the top of the order in the past few games are Trea Turner and Freeman. The former is 9-for-22 in the past five games with a walk, homer, double and four runs scored while the latter is 9-for-17 in the past 4 with eight RBIs, four runs scored, two homers, two doubles and a walk.

Meanwhile Max Muncy remains fourth in the Dodgers’ order as it seems more and more people have started to question that decision.

For the Reds, it is an all right-handed lineup against Kershaw with Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas out of the lineup, which is a little interesting because lefties have actually hit him better this season. It’s absolutely the result of a very small sample size, but it still seemed interesting that lefties are at .320/.379/.360 this season compared to Kershaw’s career average of .196/.245/.319.

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Since returning to the active roster, Kershaw has allowed 3 runs in 9 IP while striking out 8 and walking 3. Holding a 2.08 ERA/2.61 FIP/2.89 xFIP, it’s hard to look too deeply at Clayton’s numbers given that he’s thrown just 39 innings this season, but honestly it all looks pretty solid.

In the 2-1 loss to the Guardians back on June 17, Kershaw threw 39 four-seamers to 33 sliders and just 9 curveballs. Drawing 8 Whiffs on 19 swings against the slider, Kershaw added another 4 called strikes on the pitch.

Just like he did a year ago, Kershaw is continuing to keep the pitch (and it’s 37.1 Whiff%) as his new primary as it remains at 44.1% usage and the fastball at 40.0%. Sitting at 85.9 mph this season and a spin rate of 2,569, the slider is slightly down on both compared to where it has been in recent seasons as the usage picked up. It’s still producing mostly at the same rate, which is clear by his numbers this season. Kershaw’s fastball is also getting slightly better results than the past few seasons with the .212 xBA/.406 xSLG/.272 xWOBA the lowest ever/since 2016/since 2016 respectively, though again that may be helped by the smaller sample so far.

Kershaw missed the Reds earlier this season, starting just before the series in Minnesota and right after when hosting the Braves. Last season against the Reds, who were not nearly as bad of a team as they are now, Kershaw won both of his starts while allowing just one earned run across 12 innings, striking out 16 to one walk.

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As for the 22-year-old Hunter Greene, the righty is at a 5.26 ERA/5.30 FIP/4.01 xFIP in his first season in the majors.

Greene, the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks (15 minutes from Dodger Stadium), has struggled a bit in his first season in the majors while throwing very, very hard.

Sitting at an average of 98.5 mph on his most commonly used pitch, a four-seamer, Greene’s second major league start back on April 17 at Dodger Stadium included 39 pitches at 100+ mph to set a major league record. Leaving in the 6th after 5 1/3 IP with 6 strikeouts and 2 earned runs allowed on a Trea Turner home run, Greene took the loss as the Reds fell 5-2.

Since then, Greene has had some strong starts including 7 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts against the D-backs and allowing 1 run in 5 innings with 7 strikeouts against the Cardinals as well as some rough ones, with 8 earned runs allowed in 2 2/3 innings to the Brewers and 5 innings with 5 runs allowed to the Cubs. The D-backs and Cardinals games were two of his most recent three games, with another meeting with the Brewers including 4 earned runs allowed across 5 innings on June 17.

Leaning on a four-seamer, slider and change-up, Greene has been beaten by home runs this season. Allowing 17 in his 65 innings this season, it’s been a 18.3% HR/FB ratio this season. So while he’s in the 99th percentile of velocity on his fastball and leads the league on fastball velocity among pitchers with his pitch total, he’s 6th in the league on HR/FB% among pitcher with 60+ innings this season.

As I mentioned, the fastball is primary pitch at 50.6% with a slider second at 43.8% and a change-up at 5.6% that is used almost primarily to left-handed batters. The change sits at 89.7 mph, 6th-fastest among pitchers with his pitch total. For right-handed batters, the slider actually leads the way at 56.1% to the fastball’s 43.8%, but righties have hit 8 homers off the fastball so far this season with another 5 off the slider. Lefties see the slider 33.2% of the time and struggle with it mightily at a .079 xBA, .127 xSLG, .167 xWOBA. In fact, left-handed batters are hitless with 19 strikeouts against the slider with two strikes this season. Overall, Greene’s slider is up near the top of the league in pitch value this season, just behind Tony Gonsolin, while the fastball is in the opposite direction.

While he throws it very fast, the fastball is at a xSLG of .842 to right-handed batters and .445 to lefties. If it isn’t getting strikeouts, which it does at 36 in 123 at-bats this season, it’s possibly going a low way with 12 homers and 6 doubles allowed this season.

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Well with a 9:35 a.m. PT first pitch, there’s not really much news to pass along today, at least not that very early time I woke up to finish this Game Thread.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree. He now works for the university’s athletics department after spending seven years with the local newspaper.