Dodgers at DBacks Series Preview

Cliff Corcoran

Having pulled off an eventful but uninspiring two-game sweep of the Astros in Houston, the Dodgers begin to work their way back home starting with a four-game set in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks that commences Thursday night with a matchup between Ross Stripling and Robbie Ray.

The Diamondbacks are off to a lousy start, having gone 2-4 through their first six games. Only the Martes, second baseman Ketel and new centerfielder Starling (no relation), have shown much life at the plate thus far as Arizona has hit a collective .202/.280/.275 (60 OPS+) with just one home run, by new right fielder Kole Calhoun. Here’s their typical lineup thus far:

S – Ketel Marte (2B)

L – Kole Calhoun (RF)

R – Starling Marte (CF)

S – Eduardo Escobar (3B)

R – Christian Walker (DH)

L – David Peralta (LF)

L – Jake Lamb (1B)

R – Carson Kelly (C)

R – Nick Ahmed (SS)

The Diamondbacks have yet to score more than four runs in a game this season and now must endure four games against a Dodgers pitching staff that has been the second-stingiest in the majors thus far (behind the Rockies, if you can believe that).

The Dodgers have allowed just 2 1/3 runs per game through their first six contests, with a staff ERA of 2.02, and a 2.96 fielding-independent mark, the last of which is tops in the National League. The Dodgers’ bullpen has been especially stingy, allowing just five runs (four earned) in 31 2/3 innings for a 1.14 ERA. That’s 5 1/3 more innings than the rotation has consumed, and the next Dodgers reliever to allow a home run this season will be the first. The Dodgers’ 13-inning win on Wednesday night was the ‘pen’s greatest achievement thus far, as eight L.A. relievers combined to allow just one run over 9 2/3 innings.

The 30-man roster has allowed the Dodgers’ ‘pen, currently composed of 12 men, to endure such workloads without significant fatigue. Still, it’s good to know that the lone Dodgers starter to throw more than five innings in a game thus far is due to start Thursday’s opener in Phoenix. Ross Stripling was excellent in his season debut against the Giants, allowing just four baserunners while striking out seven, his lone run allowed on a solo homer by Jaylin Davis. Admittedly, that was against a very weak Giants lineup, but the Giants have out-produced the Diamondbacks thus far this season.

How the Dodgers intend to follow Stripling in the rotation has yet to be announced. Friday would have been Alex Wood’s turn, but Wood is on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. Friday’s could be a bullpen game, but given the pen’s heavy workload on Wednesday, the Dodgers might opt to call up a proper starter who is already on the 40-man roster, such as Tony Gonsolin. Julio Urías will be on-turn for Saturday’s start. Walker Buehler would be on regular rest for Sunday, but the Dodgers are considering giving Buehler an extra day of rest and activating Clayton Kershaw, who felt good after throwing on Tuesday and is scheduled for a bullpen session on Thursday. That decision won’t be made until after Kershaw’s bullpen, and likely not until Friday, at the earliest.

Another uncertainty hanging over the pitching staff is Joe Kelly’s suspension for throwing at the Astros on Tuesday. Kelly, who did not pitch on Wednesday, is appealing, and thus available until the appeal is settled. I expect his eight-game suspension, which is equivalent to more than 20 games in a 162-game schedule, will be reduced but certainly not overturned.

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As for the Diamondbacks, here’s how their starters line up:

Thu. 7/30, 6:40pm PDT: RHP Ross Stripling vs. LHP Robbie Ray

Fri. 7/31, 6:40pm PDT: TBA vs. RHP Zac Gallen

Sat. 8/1, 5:10pm PDS: LHP Julio Urías vs. RHP Luke Weaver

Sun. 8/2, 1:10pm PDT: LHP Clayton Kershaw or RHP Walker Buehler vs. RHP Merrill Kelly

Kelly was the most effective of that quartet the first time through the rotation, turning in an outing very similar to Stripling's, albeit against a stronger Rangers lineup in hitting-friendly Arlington. The 31-year-old Korea Baseball Organization veteran, an unexceptional, league-average righty, faced the Dodgers twice as a major-league rookie last year without incurring an excess of damage.

Pending free agent Robbie Ray burned through 97 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings in his season debut in San Diego. He has recovered some velocity by raising his release point, but otherwise seems like the same, three-true-outcome pitcher and could help the Dodgers’ right-handed bats come alive Thursday night.

Like Kelly, 24-year-old sophomore Zac Gallen avoided excess damage in two starts against the Dodgers as a rookie last year. Like Ray, he can be wild, and thus inefficient. Just 16 starts into his major-league career, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about the young righty, who throws in the low-to mid-90s with a curve, slider, and changeup and passed through two other organizations before arriving in Arizona in a prospect-for-prospect deal at last year’s trading deadline.

Saturday’s starter, the 26-year-old Luke Weaver, is a former first-round draft pick who struggled to establish himself in the Cardinals’ rotation before being dealt to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt trade in December 2018. He impressed in his first 11 starts for Arizona last year but missed most of the remainder of the year with flexor and ulnar collateral ligament strains. The Padres smacked him around in his season debut on Monday, but his velocity was there, and the shortened season will allow him to pitch without restrictions. Be sure to catch his confrontations with Cody Bellinger, who, in six career plate appearances against Weaver, has two homers, a single, a walk, and reached on an error on a line drive.

Perhaps facing Weaver can help Bellinger find his stroke, as he has been the team’s worst hitter in the early going, having hit .192 with just one extra-base hit (a double) thus far. Indeed, the Dodgers’ lineup as a whole could use a jumpstart, as L.A. has averaged just 3.15 runs per nine innings over its last four games, with three of their four runs Wednesday night scoring in extra innings that started with a runner on second base. Given the malaise of their lineup and the injuries in their rotation, the Dodgers are fortunate to be 4-2. With the Padres on deck on Monday (and in seven of their next 10 games after this series), they need to shape up in Arizona.

Cliff Corcoran covers baseball for The Athletic and is a former lead baseball writer for SI.com. The co-author or editor of 13 baseball books, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he has also written for USA Today, SB Nation, Baseball Prospectus, Sports on Earth, The Hardball Times, and Boston.com, among others. He has been a semi-regular guest analyst on the MLB Network and can be heard more regularly on The Infinite Inning podcast with Steven Goldman. Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffCorcoran.

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