The final Game 1 of the NLDS will be a late one for the East Coast fans and the final game of the day on Friday as the Rockies take on the Dodgers.
The Dbacks won a high scoring Wild Card game against the Rockies on Wednesday and are looking to do the same against the Dodgers in order to advance to the NLCS. The Dodgers are looking to prove to their fans that they are still the best team in baseball in 2017.
After a red hot start of the season for the Dodgers, they metaphorically limped into the postseason. Up until August 25th, the Dodgers were the hands-down favorite to win the World Series. They had a 91-36 record, 13 wins over the next best team in the Major Leagues. Then they sunk… fast. While the Indians were on an epic 22 game win streak, the Dodgers were in an epic slump. In the 17 games from August 26th to September 11th the Dodgers went 1-16. The Dodgers did pick themselves back up to end the season by going 12-6, but that slump remains in the back of the mind of all Dodgers fans.
The Diamondbacks played well throughout the season, especially against their rivals in the NL West. Against the 4 teams in the NL West, the Diamondbacks went 46-31 including the Wild Card game. Against the Dodgers, they went 11-8 this season. Their last 6 clashes came during the Dodgers slump as the Dbacks swept both 3-game series. As displayed in the Wild Card game, the Dbacks have an explosive offense that can score runs quickly. This will be needed as the Dodgers pitching staff is one of the best in baseball at preventing runs. This season the Dodgers posted the lowest WHIP, lowest opponent batting average, second lowest ERA, second most shutouts and fifth most strikeouts in the MLB. They also ranked in the bottom 6 in walks and homeruns allowed.
The core of that dominant rotation is Clayton Kershaw, who once again put up a Cy Young-caliber season. Kershaw led the NL in wins and ERA. He struggled late this season though posted a 4.23 ERA in his final 5 games of the season. This was an issue that the Red Sox’ Chris Sale had as well and he did not fair well in his first game of the NLDS against the Astros. Kershaw has a history of struggling in the postseason, so Dodgers fans are crossing their fingers and hoping that this is the year he turns that around, but how he ended the regular season will not ease anyone’s mind.
Slated for Game 2 is Rich Hill who had his ups and downs this season and struggled big at times like in August when he had a 4.71 ERA for the month. However, Dodgers fans can rest easy that those days are behind him as he was dominant in the month of September posting a 1.86 ERA with a 0.76 WHIP and striking out 40 batters in just 29 innings. Game 3 starter, Yu Darvish, also had his share of struggles this season, but finished strong in his final 3 games of the season as he allowed just 1 earned run over 19.1 innings while striking out 21 and allowing just 10 baserunners.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dodgers were your typical average ball club. They ranked near the middle in just about every major category including team batting average, homeruns, strikeouts, runs scored, RBI, and steals. One bright note for the Dodgers is that they did draw the most walks in the Majors this season and ranked 6th in On-base percentage. The most dangerous hitter on the roster is rookie Cody Bellinger, but he has found himself in quite the slump lately, batting just .125 with 0 homeruns and 2 RBI in his final 8 games of the season. Yasiel Puig also has the potential to cause some damage and the only player on the Dodgers with a batting average over .300 was Justin Turner.
Since we already know what the Diamondbacks offense can do and they will be tasked to penetrate the Dodgers pitching staff. But what does the Diamondbacks pitching staff look like? Zack Greinke will be sure to make a start at some point during this series. He did not fair well in his Wild Card matchup against the Rockies and this will surely be on his mind early in the game. Expect his control to be off in the first two innings before he settles down. Fortunately, the Dodgers offense isn’t as big of a threat as the Rockies, so the damage, if any should be minimal.
Announced as the Game 1 starter for the Diamondbacks is Taijuan Walker. Walker isn’t anything special as he posted a mediocre 3.49 ERA this season and had a 3.23 ERA in the month of September. So this may be a strategic move for the Dbacks management knowing that whoever they select to start Game 1 will have their hands full going up against Kershaw.
No other pitchers have been officially announced by the Diamondbacks, but Robbie Ray is the likely choice for Game 2. He has pitched superbly all season long with his 2.89 ERA and striking out 218. Ray was on placed on the DL in early August, but returned in top form. He returned on August 24th and in the 7 games since returning he was unhittable, posting a 2.18 ERA and 0.96 WHIP while striking out 66 batters in 41.2 innings. His final start of the season was short one as he pitched just 1.2 innings before being pulled from the game. In that game he allowed 1 hit which was a homerun and struck out 1 batter.
This will place Greinke in the Game 3 spot and the Game 4 pitcher will likely be Patrick Corbin. Corbin has pitched masterfully towards the end of the season. He had one awful outing on September 8th where he allowed 8 runs in 4.1 innings. But in his final 9 games of the season, besides that one on September 8th, Corbin posted a 1.45 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 2 walks in 51.2 innings.
Kershaw will be shaky in Game 1, but will hold the Diamondbacks off enough to give his team a chance to win. The Dodgers offense will be quiet early on before scratching out a few runs in the middle innings of this game to secure a close 1 or 2 run victory. In Game 2 Robbie Ray will continue his dominance and hold the Dodgers to 1 or fewer runs before passing it off the bullpen who will secure the win and even up the series 1-1. Game 3 will be intriguing as Greinke struggles with his control early. The Dodgers offense won’t be able to capitalize on Greinke’s struggles and Darvish will put up a strong outing. This one will go to the bullpens tied and wind up being decided in the late innings as the Dbacks bullpen gives up the winning run. Game 4 will see Corbin pitch strong and hold the Dodgers offense at bay while the Dbacks offense goes off on the Dodgers Game 4 starter (Ryu or Wood) to force a Game 5. Game 5 will be the game for Kershaw to finally prove himself as not just an elite regular season pitcher. He will put up on of his best performances in this game to earn the win for the Dodgers and advance to the NLCS.