Clayton Kershaw provided the team with seven scoreless innings last night, buying the offense enough time to put two runs on the board. With the help of Caleb Ferguson and Evan Phillips, the Dodgers (40-33) took game one of this two game series by a score of 2-0. The Angels (41-34) will look to bounce back behind none other than Shohei Ohtani on the mound, up against Michael Grove and the Dodgers’ bullpen. It’s presumably Grove for the majority of the innings, but Dave Roberts has alluded to the idea that it could be primarily a bullpen game. Either way, advantage Angels.
|1B||Freeman (L)||P||Ohtani (L)|
|RF||Heyward (L)||1B||Walsh (L)|
|CF||Outman (L)||3B||Rengifo (S)|
|3B||Busch (L)||SS||Velazquez (S)|
|P||Grove (R)||P||Ohtani (R)|
Mookie Betts will start at shortstop with Miguel Rojas available off the bench. This move is likely just looking to maximize offense against Ohtani, by getting three left-handed bats in the outfield. Michael Busch had the go-ahead single last night and will be starting at third once again in the absence of Max Muncy. The Angels will throw in a couple left-handed bats to start the game against Grove, with Micky Moniak in right field, and Jared Walsh at first base.
Overall these two teams have had relatively comparable offenses. They’ve both been great, albeit not elite. The Dodgers are only missing Muncy, whilst the Angels are hurting right now, missing Anthony Rendon, Zach Neto, and Gio Urshela, three of their starting infielders.
Freddie Freeman (157 wRC+), Will Smith (152 wRC+), Betts (137), and J.D. Martinez (128) lead the Dodgers offensively. The Angels are led by starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (170 wRC+), which is the highest mark in all of baseball. He also leads baseball in home runs, RBI, and is the only player with an OPS above 1.000. Best player in the world. Mike Trout has “just” a 129 wRC+, which is indicative of a big struggle thus far. By wRC+ that puts him 32nd among qualified players, where you’d normally expect to see him in the top five. Brandon Drury has also had a good season so far, with a 120 wRC+.
Here’s how the two starters matchup.
Grove was called up for this start with the corresponding move being Shelby Miller going to the 15-day IL with neck discomfort. Grove has struggled this year and I won’t try to defend that. He’s pitched to an 8.10 ERA and 1.60 WHIP over 30 innings. Has he given up 27 earned runs in 30 innings? Yes. However, I feel that in every start he makes, he’s close to having great outings and just can’t finish at-bats or allows hits and home runs in very inopportune times. Not that there’s many good times to give up homers, but solo shots won’t kill you. His overall whiff rate of 24.9% is 123rd of 252 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Very solid considering he’s 251st in ERA among that group. For starting pitchers on the team, he trails just Kershaw (30.4%). It puts him near a couple elite starters in Framber Valdez (25.5%) and Gerrit Cole (25.6%). Long story short, he gets enough whiffs to succeed which is great.
At the same time, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to success perfectly, as Gavin Stone has the highest whiff rate on the team this year with a minimum of ten innings, at 31.5%, with a strikeout rate of just 8.5%. More than anything this just shows that Stone will be back and has a good shot at translating his minor league success to the majors. Alex Vesia is next in whiff rate at 31.3% with an 8.00 ERA. It doesn’t perfectly correlate with success, but being able to get whiffs at an above-average rate is a great starting point. Grove’s home run to fly-ball ratio of 21.6% is the 9th highest among those 252 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched.
Speaking of giving up home runs, it’s one of Ohtani’s only weak spots on the mound. In his last outing, he allowed two runs on six hits and one walk over six innings. Though Ohtani has thus far taken a step back from his incredible 2022 season on the mound where he tallied a 2.33 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 219 strikeouts across 166 innings, he’s remained a dominating presence. His 31.7% strike out rate is the third highest among starting pitchers, and still has just a 3.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 82 innings. His 16.4% home run to fly-ball ratio is the 7th highest among qualified starting pitchers and his walk rate has soared from 6.7% last year to a below average 10.6%.
However, if he isn’t handing out free passes, he’s nearly unhittable. His .178 batting average allowed is the lowest in all of baseball. The recipe to success against Ohtani is clear, take free passes and punish pitches left in the middle of the plate. If you can’t do those things, you’re going to strikeout a ton, look bad, and probably lose.
Someone had to go on the IL for the team to have the room to make this move. Both Miller and Brusdar Graterol lead the Dodgers’ relief staff in innings pitched this season with 30, so it makes sense to get Miller some time off. The neck issue is reported to be a lingering issue that has come back, so he’ll miss a couple weeks at the least. Tough blow for an already struggling bullpen.
First pitch is at 6:38 PM PT on SNLA and MLB Network.