Dodgers Defeat Dbacks Three Games To None in NLDS
How important is momentum? By the end of August 25th, the Dodgers were 91-36, the Dbacks were 71-58, and the Indians were 71-56. All three teams had won two straight games at this point. From that date on, the Dodgers went 13-22, the Dbacks went 22-11, and the Indians went an absurd 31-4 to end the season. By most accounts, the Dodgers were in trouble, the Dbacks looked like a serious contender, and the Indians were unstoppable.
As we found out last night, the Indians were not unbeatable, as the Yankees came back from down 2-0 in the ALDS for a massive upset. A pre-playoffs poll of 30 “experts” at ESPN showed 30 votes for the Indians winning their first-round matchup. Not one person believed either the Twins or the Yankees had a prayer to win three of five games here. However, as we saw, timely hitting and an excellent bullpen changed everything, and the momentum did not matter.
In the same pre-playoffs poll, in a somewhat surprising result, the Dodgers got 20 of the 30 votes to win their first-round matchup. For those looking at the overall picture, you might think that is still a low number for a team that led the MLB in wins at 104. For those looking at recent trends and the momentum, you might believe it’s too many votes. After all, Arizona had an MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt. They had Cy Young candidates in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray potentially. They had the hottest trade acquisition in the second half, JD Martinez. But as it turned out, the Dodgers had a deeper overall team and were able to put away the surging Dbacks in just three games.
Due to Zack Greinke starting the Wild Card game against the Rockies, and Robbie Ray coming in to relieve, that left Taijuan Walker to start game 1 of the NLDS. Walker had a pretty good season, pitching a 3.49 ERA/4.04 FIP combo in 157.1 innings in 2017. Starting him in this game seemed like the best move at the time and not a bad one at that. Walker’s results, however, were devastating for the Dbacks:
3-2 single from Chris Taylor
3-2 walk to Corey Seager
2-2 home run allowed to Justin Turner
3-2 single from Cody Bellinger
3-2 RBI double from Yasiel Puig
Through just five batters, Walker had allowed 4 runs and had not gotten a single out. As well, he was going deep into counts before allowed these base runners, driving up his pitch count. Thankfully for Walker, he got outs on three of the next four batter. He ended up with 3 strikeouts in the inning, but finished with a whopping 48 1st inning pitches, and was replaced by Zack Godley in the 2nd inning of the game.
Luckily for the Dbacks, Godley came in and was much sharper than Walker. Although he allowed a four-pitch walk to Turner, he got through the 2nd inning unscathed. The 3rd inning was even better, with three up and three down. The 4th inning started off poorly with a single allowed to Forsythe, followed by a sac-bunt from Kershaw. From there he allowed a walk, RBI single, and another RBI single. Godley did himself no favors to the next batter with an error in Bellinger’s at-bat that loaded the bases. Next up, he got Puig to ground out, but Seager scored moving the score to 7-1.
Now staring at a 7-1 deficit, Dbacks hitters started smashing some home runs. AJ Pollock had already homered earlier in the game to put the Dbacks first run on the board in the 3rd inning. JD Martinez hit a solo bomb in the 6th inning, followed by back-to-back identical solo home runs from Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis, of all people, in the 7th inning. This cut the lead to 7-4, with the Dodger’s bullpen taking over after the Mathis HR.
The following inning Seager tripled in a run, then Turner singled him in putting the game out of reach. Even a 9th inning run scored off of Kenley Jansen did not amount to anything, and the Dodgers won game one 9-5.
Game two featured a starting pitcher battle of Robbie Ray vs Rich Hill. As talked about in the series preview, Robbie Ray had dominated the Dodgers in 2017:
In five starts, Ray put up a 2.27 ERA with 53 strikeouts, including 10 or more strikeouts in four of those games.
After going down 4-0 to start game one, the Dbacks needed Ray to be sharp as he had been all season against the Dodgers.
On the offensive side, things started off very well for the Dbacks in the 1st inning. After a quick out to David Peralta to start the game, Hill walked Pollock on a 3-2 count and then allowed a monster home run to Paul Goldschmidt the very next at-bat.
The Dodgers struck back with a run the next inning to cut the lead to 2-1 after a Yasiel Puig RBI groundout.
It remained a 2-1 Dbacks lead until the 4th inning when three straight one-out Dodger singles loaded the bases for Rich Hill. Although Hill settled down after a rough 1st inning, he allowed just 2 hits and 2 walked the next three innings with still just 2 runs allowed. Rookie catcher Kyle Farmer pinch hit for Hill to see if they could take advantage of the bases loaded, 1 out situation.
In this at-bat Farmer swung at a breaking ball in the dirt and looked quite fooled. From there, Farmer was not biting on the pitch, though Ray kept trying. This resulted in a wild pitch that scored Forsythe as the tying run. Farmer ended up striking out, but a Taylor RBI single followed and the Dodgers took a 3-2 lead.
The 5th inning was no kinder to Ray, as the Dodgers piled on 4 more runs to take a 7-2 lead. Despite continued success all season against the Dodgers, Ray only went 4.1 IP with 4 H 6 K 4 BB and 4 R allowed. Reliever Jimmie Sherfy took over for Ray, not getting a single out and allowing 3 runs on 3 hits in the same inning.
Just as things were looking hopeless in the game for the Dbacks, Jake Lamb and Marte hit back-to-back singles off of Tony Watson to start off the 7th inning. Flame-throwing righty Brandon Morrow was brought in to shut down the rally. Morrow was a great choice here, as not only had he been one of the best set-up men in the MLB this season with a sub 2.00 FIP, but had not allowed a single HR all year. So as post-season baseball likes to do, it made sure that was no longer the case: On his first pitch in the game, Morrow allowed a huge HR to Brandon Drury to cut the lead to 7-5.
Morrow settled down after this, getting the next three outs. Josh Fields took over in the 8th inning, striking out JD Martinez and then allowing a double off of the right-field wall. That is when Kenley Jansen got the call for a 1.2 inning save, which he did without allowing a single base runner. The Dodgers won game two 8-5.
After two highly disappointing games for the Dbacks in Los Angeles, they were hoping for some home-brewed magic in Arizona. This time they would have their ace Zack Greinke on the mound to take on Yu Darvish. Although Greinke was not great in the Wild Card game against the Rockies, he was their best pitcher all season, a top-five pitcher in the NL to boot. For Greinke, the 1st inning was not ideal, however.
After a 3-2 leadoff double from Chris Taylor, a soft RBI groundout to Paul Goldschmidt ended up plating him three batters later. Through the first three innings of the game, Greinke’s pitch count was sky high, although he was limiting runs as best as he could. Through four innings, the game was still just 1-0 with Darvish rolling while Greinke was struggling at times to keep it a 1 run game.
Going back to the 3rd inning, Greinke had gotten outs on six of the last seven batters, allowing a walk to Chase Utley in the middle. This was, of course, until facing a slumping Cody Bellinger, who had not had a hit since the first inning of game one. On a 3-1 pitch, Bellinger crushed an opposite-field home run giving the Dodgers a 2 run lead in the 5th inning. By the end of the inning, Greinke had 105 pitches and would not go out for the 6th.
Arizona answered right back to Bellinger’s home run with a Daniel Descalso 5th inning home run of their own to cut the lead back to 2-1. However, not to be out-done, ‘back-up’ catcher Austin Barnes hit his own home run the next inning to once again give the Dodgers a 2 run cushion.
That is where the scoring ended. Dodgers relievers Tony Cingrani, Brandon Morrow, Kenta Maeda, and Kenley Jansen combined to pitch four innings while striking out 4 batters, allowing just 1 baserunner, and zero runs to score. The game and the series ended on one of the nastiest cutters you will ever see:
Kenley Jansen, Insane 95mph Cutter Movement (slow). LOL. pic.twitter.com/whCkVqRCn2
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 10, 2017
Video from @pitchingninja Twitter account
The Dodgers won game three 3-1 and the NLDS 3 games to none.
NLDS Preview Players to Watch Review
In the Dbacks/Dodgers NLDS Preview article, I wrote about how from 7/18 on, JD Martinez was the third best hitter in the MLB behind Matt Olson and Giancarlo Stanton. JD Martinez was a player to watch to see if the Dodgers could get through the pair of he and Goldschmidt.
Outside of the home run in game one, Martinez did very little of note. Although he had a 1.000 OPS flat, hitting .364/.364/.636 with a home run, he had just the 1 run and 1 RBI in the three-game sweep, not changing much for the team.
You may have heard, Robbie Ray was excellent against the Dodgers in 2017. With a 2.27 ERA and 53 Ks in just five games started, everyone was wondering if he could keep it up in the playoffs.
As it turned out, he just didn’t have the same control and power he did in the regular season, walking too many batters in the worst possible spots. In his first career playoff start, Ray did not make it out of the 5th inning, allowing 4 runs on 4 hits and 4 BB with 6 Ks. His game score of 41 reflects his box score quite well.
In perhaps the biggest story of this playoff series and any playoff series that involves him, Clayton Kershaw was going to make one or two playoff starts. If you are a fan of the MLB, you know all about Clayton Kershaw and the playoffs. I wrote fairly extensively about it in my NLDS Preview, and that the 7th inning was the magic inning for Kershaw. With so much trouble in the 7th inning going back to 2013, fans of the game are all interested to see if he can break the spell or fall victim to it yet again.
Through 6 innings of game one, Kershaw was not his sharpest but he had limited the Dbacks to just 2 runs on 3 hits. Overall, he had 6 IP, 7 K, 3 BB, 3 H, 2 HR, 2 R allowed. The two runs were solo home runs from AJ Pollock and JD Martinez, so it wasn’t exactly a cause for alarm.
The Dodgers left Kershaw in the game for the 7th inning with a 7-2 cushion and in the low 90s in pitches. What followed next was more of the same recent history, with Kershaw allowed extremely similar line-drive home runs to Ketel Marte, and then Jeff Mathis. Kershaw’s night was done at this point, being taken out for a reliever.
While his results were not exactly what Dodger fans were looking for, as allowing 4 home runs is usually back-breaking, all 4 home runs were solo and the Dodgers supplied enough offense for Kershaw to get the win. Surprisingly enough, this was Kershaw’s first career playoff win at Dodger Stadium, a place where Kershaw usually owns opposing players.
So Kershaw did end up winning the only game he pitched in, he was not his sharpest and allowed 4 home runs in the process. The pressure will still be on him for game 1 of the NLCS and any subsequent appearance he makes, and people will still be talking about the playoff narrative for him. After Corey Kluber and Chris Sale’s terrible 2017 postseasons, Kershaw may have some company, however.
Bobby’s NLDS Series Reflection
I originally thought this would be a very tough series, something that would come down to 5 games. I believed that Goldschmidt and Martinez would be a bigger force, but with the pair combining for 5 hits in 22 at bats with 2 home runs, 3 RBI, and just 2 runs scored, the Dbacks were going to need some unlikely heroes, and they did not get enough. The Dbacks rotation also faltered in the series, not living up to any of the expectations set for them.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers looked exactly like the 104 win team they were in the regular season, with Justin Turner continuing to hit out of his mind, going off for a line of .462/.553/.692 with a HR and 5 RBI, and their vaunted depth coming through as they did pretty much all season. The very underrated Austin Barnes started the final two games of the series, as well with a pinch-hit single in game one, with a line of .500/.556/1.000 in 9 plate appearances. Cody Bellinger struggled with his bat for much of the series, hitting just .214/.267/.429 overall, but had some key at-bats as well as some spectacular defensive plays in game 3. This is all without mentioning the amazing series from Yasiel Puig, hitting .455/.538/.727 and helping spark some big rallies.
In the end, all of the positive momentum the Dbacks had in the final month and a half of the season and all of the negative momentum the Dodgers had meant very little to nothing. When it comes time for the playoffs, it comes down to the players skills and timing. In this NLDS matchup, the Dodgers out-skilled the Dbacks and had better timing in almost every way. It will be very interesting to see what the Dodgers can do against a team with higher end talent in the Washington Nationals or the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.