World Series of the Week: Diamondbacks at Dodgers

HOW THE WEST WAS DONE

by Steven Goldman

The sixth World Series of the Week finds two teams in flux. Early injuries to Aaron Hill, Jason Kubel, Cody Ross, and Adam Eaton have handicapped the offense at different times, while veterans like Ross, Martin Prado, and Miguel Montero have struggled to get out of the starting blocks. The Dodgers, with just 21 home runs as a team, have seen players like Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier hit for less power than they might have expected. Thanks to Hanley Ramirez’s injuries, shortstop hasn’t been the offensive center the team hoped it would be, and the third base crew, headed by Luis Cruz and Juan Uribe, have turned that position into a suppurating wound at .159/.266/.187 to date.

The saving grace for the Diamondbacks has been their pitching. Nominal ace Ian P. Kennedy has yet to find consistency, with only three quality starts in seven tries, while Brandon McCarthy is 0-for-6 in the same category, a disappointing performance which one hopes is not in any way attributable to last season’s frightening skull fracture (there is no reason to think that it is). The rest of the rotation has been excellent, headed by sophomore pitcher Patrick Corbin, who is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA to date, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley, and veteran groundballer Trevor Cahill. All three pitchers have identically low home run rates at 0.5 per nine innings. All three typically have good ground-ball rates, walk relatively few batters (Miley has been off in this regard, reverting to walk rates more in line with his minor-league performances than last year’s excellent 1.7 per nine) and keeping the ball in the park.

That last is key -- they’re good at holding back the home run, but maybe not as good as they’ve been, and as the summer heats up, one wonders if they’ll be able to be quite as successful at keeping baseballs from achieving escape velocity.

One of those baseball clichés that seems to be painfully true, but also in this day and age expensively impractical, is "You can never have too much pitching."

You will recall that the Dodgers began the spring with an overabundance of fourth and fifth starters. Then Aaron Harang was traded, Zack Greinke, Chris Capuano, and Chad Billingsley got hurt (the latter lost for this year and part of the next after Tommy John surgery), and suddenly pitchers like Ted Lilly (another injury case thought to be ticketed out of town before the bandages started coming out) and rookie Matt Magill (who called himself Lil, but everyone knew him as Nancy) really mattered to the team’s chances.

Contrast how much the Dodgers need Josh Beckett to step up right now with how poorly he’s pitched and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to receive some of the hostility that his odd-year/even-year pitching performances and frequently injuries inspired in Boston.

Thus, for the Dodgers it’s down to Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, and pray for divine intervention -- and even Ryu has been up and down thus far. One thing to keep in mind when considering Dodgers pitching is that the club is last in the NL in Defensive Efficiency, the percentage of balls in play the fielders turn into outs (adjusting for park fails to liberate them from "not good" territory). That distorts pitchers’ performances, making them look far worse than they are -- the Dodgers are ninth in the NL in ERA, but fifth in FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) and spitting distance from second in that category. So cut Dodgers pitchers a little slack… except perhaps for Brandon League.

Players to watch

by Steven Goldman

Matt Kemp

Hollywood has arrived

Two years ago, Kemp had one of the great all-around seasons by a center fielder in modern history. Those expecting more of the same weren’t disappointed in the early going last year as Kemp got off to a .359/.446/.726 start. Hamstring and shoulder injuries then intervened, and over his final 70 games, he hit only .280/.331/.461, numbers that were disappointing for him but would be considered strong by the standards of most players at his position (just ask the Braves how they would feel if B.J. Upton rebounded to those numbers). Kemp underwent extensive surgery on his non-throwing shoulder during the offseason, and so far the usual pop hasn’t been there, with just one home run to date. The good news is that he’s started to turn it on a little, hitting .339/.418/.424 in his last 15 games, and power may come with further healing.

Clayton Kershaw

He’s at least as good as Sandy Koufax, and got there at an earlier point of his career; Sanford K tamed his control at 25 and had his first great season at 26. Clayton K has been turning in great seasons for five years and he only turned 25 this March. Koufax had the advantage of pitching at a time and place when offense was dwindling. Offense is dropping in our own time as well, but hasn’t yet reached the anemic levels of the mid-to-late 1960s, and of course Koufax didn’t have to pitch some of his games at Denver (Kershaw has pitched more games at Coors Field than any other road stadium) or Phoenix -- remove Kershaw’s starts at Coors from his resume and his career ERA drops from 2.74 to 2.55. He’s 7.1 innings away from reaching the 1000-innings limit for appearing on "active leaders" lists, at which point he’ll take the starting pitcher’s ERA crown away from Adam Wainwright, and it won’t even be close. In short, make it out to one of his starts when you can so you can say you saw him.

Andre Ethier

Spittin' straight up ether right here folks

Ethier is the Gene Woodling of his time, a player who is an essential part of any team he plays for without quite rising to the level of star. This is because like many left-handed hitters, Ethier needs a platoon partner (.238/.297/.356 career against same-side pitching vs. .310/.387/.522 against right-handers), and why the Dodgers haven’t prioritized getting one is one of those enduring mysteries of decision-making, like the Vietnam War or Watergate. Ethier’s 2013 platoon stats are backwards due to what we can only assume is small-sample weirdness, but that only underscores his slow start against the guys he’s supposed to hit. The Dodgers are second-to-last in the league in isolated power (only the Marlins are worse), and improvement awaits Ethier having more than two extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers.

Paul Goldschmidt

Baseball player

Now that Justin Upton isn’t going to go down in history as the first great homegrown D’backs position player, it falls to Goldschmidt to pick up his discarded mantle. Paradoxically, the one thing holding him back from the Superman season that will put him on MVP ballots one of these Octobers is his normally-generous home park -- with career rates of just .251/.334/.439, Goldy has yet to turn it on at Chase Field. Dodger Stadium is another matter; he’s hit .341/.438/.512 in L.A. (insert obligatory small-sample-caveats-apply warning here). Goldschmidt has been a little lonely in the lineup with so many key players hurt or cold early, part of the reason he’s on a pace to set a career high in walks. The best part of Goldschmidt’s progress so far is that the coming attractions said he would be an all-uppercut strikeout machine. So far, he seems to have been significantly underestimated.

Trevor Cahill

Hey babeh you should see my windup

A ground-ball machine who is difficult to homer against, a skill that would seem purely redundant given the Dodgers’ lack of power thus far. Still improving at 25, Cahill has upped his strikeout rate in four straight seasons if you count this year. Sinker types are often better in their 30s than their 20s, but the only thing that is keeping Cahill from a true breakout season is a slight decrease in his walk rate -- he passes a handful more than the best pitchers of his kind. Still, with Cliff Pennington and Didi Gregorious behind him and a discounted home run rate, it might happen anyway.

Brad Ziegler

Blechagahgamg Marnagamearmganarf

If you set your qualification to 300 innings pitched, Ziegler’s ERA ranks fifth among active pitchers. This is meaningless except perhaps to indicate that though side-armers don’t get a lot of respect, the best of them can be terrifically effective (a toast here, please, to the memory of Dan Quisenberry). As with most sidearmers, Ziegler is vulnerable to left-handed hitters (they’ve hit .314/.413/.461 against him career); managers have had him issue free passes to 21 of 505 left-handers he’s faced, which is a bit like assuming that he turns every southpaw he sees into Barry Bonds. That’s hardly the case -- his OBP against lefties drops by 100 points when he’s actually been allowed to pitch to them. Imagine, then, how useful he might be were managers not determined to exaggerate his weaknesses.

About the park

by Steven Goldman

Dodger Stadium: Same as it ever was. Dodger Stadium will yield the occasional home run, but in general plays up the pitchers. Clayton Kershaw’s ERA here is a full run lower than on the road. Andre Ethier has hit far better here than on the road (.307/.377/.522 versus .272/.347/.427), while Matt Kemp has hit for a higher average on the road but has shown more home-run power at home. In an era in which urban ballparks have (as a matter of inescapability or affectation) tried to emphasize their setting, Dodger Stadium remains the best of the parking lot-bound ballparks, a gem worth saving. There’s something wonderfully evocative of the Kennedy era in its bleacher pavilions, which seem self-consciously "modern," and its symmetry seems like an appropriate, identity-defining rejection of Ebbets Field. Given the way Dodger Stadium erupts fully formed and perfect from the surrounding landscape, it’s hard to think of a way a Los Angeles ballpark could be more evocative of its city’s postwar leap into the first rank of American cities, except possibly a stadium that somehow incorporated the Babylon set from D.W. Griffith’s "Intolerance," perhaps with rampant elephants in play.

Actual Dodgers locker room, pre-renovation

This is the 52nd season of Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest stadium in MLB behind Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Though in many ways the same as its opening in 1962, with the pastel-colored seats and the beautiful vistas, the stadium underwent a massive renovation during the offseason, with improvements well north of $100 million to the iconic stadium.

Most noticeable to the fans among the improvements are the two giant HD video boards in left and right field, though there were also improvements made to every level of the park, with wider concourses, more concession options and gathering areas. For the players, the Dodgers clubhouse was upgraded from roughly the size of a shoebox into a modern marvel of luxury. The visitors clubhouse is the same tiny size it has always been, but now the opponent as their own workout area and batting cage so they don't have to walk through the Dodgers' clubhouse area to use those facilities anymore, as had been the case for years.

On the field, Dodger Stadium plays mostly as a pitchers park. It will yield its share of home runs, but Chavez Ravine has mostly been a place where doubles and triples go to die. - Eric Stephen, True Blue LA

Just Ask the locals!

from True Blue LA and AZ Snake Pit

Not quite snake-bitten, yet.

"The Dodgers' rival has always been, and will always be, the Giants. From a Dodgers' perspective, there is simply no other rival. Not even the nearby Angels, who are literally not in the same league as the Dodgers. I suppose it is flattering in a way that the Diamondbacks join the Rockies and Padres in having the Dodgers as their chief rival in the National League West, but the feeling is not reciprocated.

But maybe it should be.

The Dodgers in 2013 are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1988 World Series winning team, and the only postseason success the franchise has seen since are a pair of division series wins in 2008 and 2009. Every single club in the division has reached the World Series in the last 24 years, except for the Dodgers. Arizona didn't even start play until 1998, and they have more division titles (five) than the Dodgers (three) in the last 15 years.

So maybe the Dodgers can channel the angst of their 13-17 start and spread a little more sports hatred around, enough to counter Arizona. After all, the offensive hero of the last World Series-winning Dodgers team (Kirk Gibson) as well as the leadoff man and catalyst (Steve Sax) now sleep with the enemy and sit in the Diamondbacks dugout. Time to beat the traitors." - Eric Stephen, True Blue LA

Losing for less!

"We've never faced LA in the post-season, unlike the Rockies. None of our division titles have come after a tense struggle against them either, unlike the Giants.

Still, a desire to #BeatLA is always there, likely now enhanced by their management spending like a meth-crazed Powerball winner.

The 2013 Dodgers have pretty much confirmed every stereotype Arizonans feel about Angelenos: they pay too much for everything, so as well as property, parking and cappuccinos, add baseball players to the list.

Much though I'd enjoy seeing it, I suspect, by the end of the season, they won't be the first $200-million team with a losing record: you can't spend that much cash without getting a few good players.

We cast envious eyes at Clayton Kershaw, and I'm pretty sure Matt Kemp won't have a lower OPS than Josh Wilson for long. Arizona needs to take advantage, and kick the Dodgers when they're down." - Jim McLennan, AZ Snake Pit

One Key Stat: .678

by Steven Goldman

.678. That’s the Dodgers’ league-low Defensive Efficiency (DEF). With defensive standout second baseman Mark Ellis on the bench with a strained quadriceps, it’s worth keeping this number in mind. Sketchy defenses are something of a Dodgers tradition going back to Tommy Lasorda, some of whose best teams had two transplanted outfielders as their double-play combination, and let us not forget Pedro Guerrero at third base or Steve Sax at second base (and etc.). For all the money the Dodgers have spent, this is one area in which they’re looking soft and vulnerable… and more Hanley Ramirez might make it worse, not better. It’s tempting to say that acquiring a third baseman -- even a Jack Hannnahan type -- could change the entire season for Los Angeles. That’s probably an overstatement, but it’s hard to see how it would hurt anything.

Bottom Line: Dodgers take the series, 2-1

by Steven Goldman The Dodgers come in reeling, having dropped four straight. They’re also under .500 at home. The D’backs have also been on the cold side, dropping six of their last ten games. Look for an inconclusive battle, with Cahill besting the recuperating Capuano in Game 1, Game 2 being anyone’s guess between McCarthy and Beckett (because we have to pick we’ll guess Dodgers here), and the Dodgers taking the final game as Kershaw bests Miley.
Please post your predictions below.

Game 1: Diamondbacks 9, Dodgers 2

Despite giving up a home run to Carl Crawford, Trevor Cahill did his thing, inducing 15 grounders and allowing just four fly balls. Chris Capuano returned from the disabled list only to see Cody Ross and Paul Goldschmidt disable his pitches.

True Blue LA recap: The Dodgers fall to 5-14 against the National League West, including 2-8 at home. They have been outscored 99-57 in divisional play this season.

AZ Snake Pit recap: The D'Backs took game one of the three-game series behind Trevor Cahill's pitching and hitting and Carl Crawford's fielding.

Game 2: Diamondbacks 5, Dodgers 3

Proven closer Brandon League closed out the Dodgers' chance of winning when he allowed a tie-breaking two-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt.

True Blue LA recap: The Dodgers are 5-15 against the National League West this season, including 2-9 at home.

AZ Snake Pit recap: The hero of Chavez Ravine, the man they call Goldy. Though I'm sure the fine folks of Chavez Ravine don't particularly want to honor Paul Goldschmidt with a statue, I wouldn't put it past Diamondbacks fans. After eight innings of back-and-forth baseball, Goldy put Arizona on top of the Dodgers for the night and in line for the sweep tomorrow.

Game 3: Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 2

Wade Miley rediscovered his missing control. Clayton Kershaw pitched well, but the porous defense didn't help. Diamondbacks sweep! Paul Goldschmidt went 7-for-13 with four home runs in the series.

True Blue LA recap: The Dodgers are 5-16 against the National League West and have lost seven straight games against divisional foes.

AZ Snake Pit Recap: With Clayton Kershaw taking the mound for Los Angeles, Dodgers fans probably had some hope of seeing their team bring their six game losing streak to an end and avoid a sweep. Unfortunately for them, Wade Miley and Paul Goldschmidt had some different plans for the evening.

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