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  • Yasiel Puig is a huge reason the Dodgers have opened up a 2-0 series lead over the Diamondbacks. Then there's Rich Hill, who overcame his recurring first-inning struggles and settled down to stymie Arizona's hitters.
By Jay Jaffe
October 08, 2017

To win Game 2 of the Division Series, the Dodgers had to beat lefty Robbie Ray, who dominated them during the regular season, and overcome a first-inning two-run homer by Paul Goldschmidt, who has bedeviled them throughout the course of his seven-year career. They waited out Ray, who wasn’t sharp, scored seven unanswered runs from the second through the fifth, and held on for an 8-5 victory that put them up two games to none in the best-of-five series.

Here are three takeaways from the Dodgers' Game 2 victory.

Riding the Wild Horse

For the second night in a row, Yasiel Puig was at the center of the Dodgers’ offensive onslaught, showcasing his exuberant style as well as a refined situational hitting approach. He figured in four separate Dodger rallies and changed the course of a potential one by Arizona.

The Dodgers didn’t collect their first hit off Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray until Logan Forsythe singled with one out in the fourth inning, but they scratched out a run in the second via a pair of walks, a wild pitch, and a Puig grounder to third base that he nearly beat out. The run that scored cut Arizona’s lead to 2-1. In the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, Puig punctuated a bloop single to center with a bat flip, a night after his adventures in bat-licking and tongue-wagging:

The Dodgers ended up scoring twice in that frame to take a 3-2 lead. In the fifth, after chasing Ray and scoring three more runs, Puig brought home Austin Barnes, who had doubled and stolen third base, with an RBI single off Jimmy Sherfy to run the score to 7-2. He followed that by getting picked off first and caught stealing — hey, nobody’s perfect. Facing Archie Bradley in in the seventh, after the Diamondbacks had trimmed the lead to 7-5, with a runner on first he hit a hot smash to third base that Jake Lamb stopped but couldn’t make a play; the Dodgers ended up pushing another run across when Chris Taylor’s hot smash went through shortstop Ketel Marte’s legs. In those four plate appearances, Puig saw a total of 23 pitches.

On the defensive side, in the third inning, after Paul Goldschmidt walked, J.D. Martinez laced a single to right. Against a lesser arm, Goldschmidt could have advanced to third base, but he took no chances. On the TBS broadcast, analyst Joe Simpson questioned the decision, claiming that Puig was prone to throwing a ball into the dugout, but via Baseball-Reference.com, Puig has made just two throwing errors in his five-year major league career, the last of them in 2015. The sequence that followed—Daniel Descalso’s strikeout and Chris Ianneta’s grounding into a fielder’s choice—wouldn’t have brought Goldschmidt home from third base, but both hitters, as well as pitcher Rich Hill, may well have altered their approach had he gotten that far.

Puig is now 5-for-9 with a double, a triple and four RBIs in the Division Series, continuing a solid bounceback season. The 26-year-old rightfielder reversed a two-year trend of declining by hitting .263/.346/.487 for a 118 OPS+ with 28 homers and 15 steals, both career highs; from June 1 onward, he batted .281/.371/.531 with 19 homers. Including his stellar defense in rightfield (+18 Defensive Runs Saved), his 3.7 WAR was his highest since 2014, and better than the 2.5 he produced in his previous two seasons.

Rough ride for Ray

Arizona starter Robbie Ray led the NL in strikeout rate (12.1 per nine) and was even better against the Dodgers, whiffing 15.1 per nine in 31 ⅔ innings while posting a 2.27 ERA. He whiffed at least 10 in four of his five starts against the division rivals, with a high of 14 on September 4, when the Dodgers were in the midst of their 1-16 skid. With Zack Greinke starting the Wild Card Game, Ray was obvious choice to start Game 1 of the Division Series — except that manager Torey Lovullo called upon him to throw 34 pitches over 2 ⅓ innings when Greinke faltered in the fourth. That effort might have affected him on Saturday, as he wasn’t sharp. By the time he gave up his first hit with one out in the fourth, he had walked three, thrown two wild pitches, and surrendered a run.

With Zack Godley having thrown five innings in relief of Taijuan Walker in Game 1, Lovullo may have been hesitant to bring in Patrick Corbin, his potential Game 4 starter, as the long man. So he stuck with Ray, whose troubles were like a slow leak. The Dodgers wore through in the fourth with three runs; after Puig’s single loaded the bases, Forsythe scored on a wild pitch, and after pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer struck out to end an eight-pitch battle, Chris Taylor hit an infield single that brought home Barnes for a 3-2 lead. Ray finally escaped by striking out Corey Seager, but his 27-pitch inning ran his pitch count to 84.

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Ray plunked Justin Turner with his second pitch of the fifth inning, and following a forceout, was pulled in favor of righty Jimmie Sherfy, a 23-year-old rookie with all of 10 ⅔ major league innings under his belt. Back-to-back singles by pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson and Forsythe and then a double by Austin Barnes quickly added three more runs, giving the Dodgers a 6-2 lead, and Puig plated the seventh run. Ray’s final line: 4 ⅓ innings, 4 hits, 4 runs (all earned), 4 walks and 6 strikeouts — was an ugly one. He threw just 54 strikes among his 88 pitches, and got first pitch strikes to 11 of 22 batters faced. Though he got nine swings and misses from among his 30 sliders, he got just 15 strikes via the pitch, and three times, the slider turned into ball four.

If there’s good news for Arizona after this loss, it’s that if they can extend the series to five games, Ray could start the rubber match on regular rest.

Trouble at first for Hill

Rich Hill posted a 3.32 ERA during the regular season, 10th among NL pitchers with at least 130 innings (he threw 135.2, making just two starts in the season’s first six weeks due to a persistent blister problem. Yet the 37-year-old lefty showed a tendency to struggle in the first inning, yielding a 6.12 ERA in his 25 opening frames, tied for the league’s sixth-worst mark. Homers were a problem; he gave up five (1.8 per nine) and a .475 slugging percentage, compared to overall marks of 1.2 HR/9 and .352 SLG.

On Saturday, HIll ran into more first-inning trouble. After walking leadoff man A.J. Pollock, he served up a 430-foot, two-run bomb to leftfield by Paul Goldschmidt, the Dodgers’ familiar nemesis; his 28 regular season homers against them are the most of any active player, and 10 more than he’s hit against any other team. The blast gave the Diamondbacks a 2-0 lead before Hill had even retired a hitter. Fortunately for the Dodgers, things didn’t spiral out of control as they did for the Diamondbacks’ Walker, who was down 4-0 and had thrown 38 pitches before retiring his first hitter on Friday night.

Still, Hill needed 27 pitches to get through the inning, and 61 pitches to get through three. Not until the fourth did he retire the side in order, and that was against the Diamondbacks’ 7-8-9 hitters. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts chose to pinch-hit for him with Farmer, who struck out but helped to wear down Ray.

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Continuing the trend in which he has attempted to avoid blisters by backing away from using his curveball in favor of the fastball. Hill threw 51 four-seamers and 26 curves. He got just 11 strikes via the latter, and two swings and misses.

Protecting a one-run lead, Roberts used lefty Tony Cingrani and righty Kenta Maeda to get through the fifth. With the lead expanded to five, he could have ridden Maeda, who started 25 games, for at least another inning despite his platoon splits (.781 OPS allowed against lefties, .647 against righties) and three lefties from among the next four hitters, but instead, he pulled him after he struck out J.D. Martinez to begin the sixth, having thrown just nine pitches.

Suffice to say that things went downhill; between lefty Tony Watson and righties Brandon Morrow and Josh Fields, the Dodgers got six outs but allowed four hits, including a three-run pinch-homer by Brandon Drury on Morrow’s first pitch in the seventh, and a Descalso double that led Roberts to call upon Kenley Jansen for a five-out save. The 29-year-old closer, who allowed a run in a non-save situation in Game 1, was much sharper, needing just 18 pitches to retire the five hitters he faced, two via strikeout. Jansen is now 9-for-9 in postseason save chances over the past five seasons. Four of them have been longer than an inning, tied with the Indians’ Cody Allen for the lead among active pitchers. 

 

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