Dodgers 3, Giants 1: My Five Takeaways

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the rubber match of their three-game homestand against the San Francisco Giants, and they did so thanks to the great pitching of Kenta Maeda, one big swing from Joc Pederson, and a dazzling display courtesy of Yasiel Puig. All those things clicked to give the Dodgers a 3-1 win over the hated Giants.

Los Angeles got seven quality innings out of right-hander Kenta Maeda en route to the win, but it was the way that he recovered after his long first inning that actually showed just how good he happens to be. It wasn’t easy for Maeda throughout the evening, but he got it all to work for long enough to generate a fantastic start that saw him give up the first run of his career.

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Takeaway #1: Kenta Maeda continues to be one of the best stories in baseball this season. In seven innings tonight, the native of Japan gave up four hits and three walks while striking out a career-high seven batters. He also gave up his first run of the season on a Joe Panik solo home run with two outs in the third inning. It wasn’t all roses for Maeda, though. He struggled in the first inning as he threw 24 pitches, but only 11 went for strikes. Maeda also threw a first pitch strike to just one of the five batters he faced in the first inning, but he didn’t give up a run and got some easy outs.

The name of the game for Maeda is easy outs, and he surely generates a ton of them. So far this season, Maeda has faced 73 batters, but only four of them have registered a batted ball speed (i.e. exit velocity) of 100 miles per hour or more. The right-hander didn’t give up a single batted ball of 100 MPH or more tonight. His slider and changeup were magnificent, even if he was missing location. The home run that Panik hit was on a missed location, but King Kenta rebounded to go scoreless for the next several innings. Everyone has to love what he’s giving the team so far.

Takeaway #2: It was awesome to see Joc Pederson deliver a pivotal hit once again. Prior to his at-bat in the bottom of the fifth inning, Pederson was in a woeful 2-for-14 slump. That all changed when Jeff Samardzija threw him a belt-high fastball that Pederson just walloped. It left Pederson’s bat at 105 MPH, and it soared 393 feet. The two-run home run put the Dodgers in front of the Giants, 2-1, and it ultimately was the difference in the game as Los Angeles went on to win. No matter what you think of Pederson and his struggles, you had to love this one at-bat.

The young center fielder has his issues at the plate. Sometimes his swing can get too long, sometimes he can bail out far too much, and sometimes his head does not stay level. Except on this one swing, none of that happened. His bat stayed on a level plane, he stayed square all the way through, and he deposited the baseball a county away. Hopefully this is the sign of things to come since Pederson started the season really well before that regression reared its ugly head. The Dodgers will need whatever production he can give them, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Takeaway #3: Bruce Bochy outthought himself in the seventh inning, and it was funny. Bruce Bochy doesn’t do a lot of things that turn out to be wrong, but the moves he made in the seventh inning turned out to be very wrong, and that was even before anything happened. With a runner on first and one out in the top of the seventh, Bochy let Jeff Samardzija bat for himself. It was a 2-1 game at the time, and the plan was for Samardzija to bunt the runner over into scoring position. However, that’s also a dumb move considering Samardzija two somewhat iffy innings prior to this at-bat. The end result? Samardzija popped the bunt up, Maeda fired to second to start the double play, and the throw to first retired Samardzija for the final out in the top of the seventh.

By letting Samardzija hit for himself, it meant that he had to go back out there for the bottom half of the seventh inning. He then promptly gave up a rocket single to Yasiel Puig, a stolen base to Puig, and then an RBI single to Yasmani Grandal that Puig hustled around to score on. Samardzija then walked Howie Kendrick, and that was all she wrote for the right-hander. The move to let Samardzija hit for himself was a really bad one, and it was bad before any of the results that followed it actually took place. Bochy outsmarted and outthought himself on this one, and the Giants paid a massive price for it.

Takeaway #4: Yasmani Grandal might be the team’s most important position player right now. We’re going to break this up into two separate sections just so that we can appreciate everything that Yasmani Grandal did in this game. First off, his ability to call a game behind the plate is pretty damn good, and then there’s his pitch framing. Maeda was living on the edges all night long, and he was the beneficiary of a lot questionable strike calls. The reason he got them? Because Grandal is an expert pitch framer that knows how to work pitches back over the plate and present them to the umpire as a strike. He’s marvelous.

Secondly, his ability at the plate is invaluable. He went 2-for-2 with one run batted in tonight, as well as one walk. He’s now 4-for-5 at the plate in the last two games with two walks. He’s ripping the baseball, and the Dodgers need him to get back to where he was prior to the shoulder injury that he sustained in August 2015. He was a monster hitter before all of that unfolded, and if Grandal can get back to that level then the Dodgers will see their offense take another step in the right direction. While there are certainly other players on the team that you would think about before Grandal, his overall value might not be matched by anyone else.

Takeaway #5: For the fifth straight game, and eighth time this season, the bullpen was lights out. Yes, I’m going to harp on this again. Everyone was so quick to bash the bullpen after a bad five game stretch, so you better praise them for a fantastic five game stretch. Over the last five games, the bullpen has thrown 14 innings and given up a grand total of zero runs. That’s right, zero. They’ve also struck out 14 batters, given up just three hits, three walks, and one hit batter. In other words, they’ve allowed just seven batters to reach safely over the last 14 innings, which is downright tremendous for them.

In eight games this season, the bullpen has been great. While we all want to primarily focus on the negatives because they’re a lot easier to see, the positives need their time in the light. Chris Hatcher pitched a scoreless eighth, and Kenley Jansen pitched a scoreless ninth to record his fifth save of the young season. It’s always nice when your starting pitcher can go seven innings, but it’s especially awesome when he can hand the ball off to a bullpen that has their confidence fully intact. There will be another bad stretch this season. There has to be. It is baseball, after all. But you have to be loving this right now.

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  1. I count myself as someone who was down on the bullpen.  While I have been generally supportive of Hatcher, I have always believed that he is probably better suited as the 7th inning pitcher and not the setup reliever.  I was hoping for Jake McGee, but no such luck.  I am still not convinced that Howell or Baez (and Garcia often times) can be effective over the long season., and that changes will still need to be made (mostly internal until July and the August 1 trade deadline).  Right now, when CC is reinstated next Sunday from the DL, Liberatore deserves to stay, and Baez needs to be optioned out to work on his 2nd pitch and overall command at OKC.

    So while I agree that the bullpen should receive their share of kudos over the last 5 games / 14 IP, I am not ready to call them a strength.  More of a work in progress.

  2. AlwaysCompete  Although I do agree that Liberatore should stay, I think Baez has better stuff than Garcia, and the other night he showed it. Letter high fastball of his is nigh unhittable. Garcia needs to work on his confidence issues..

  3. While I agree with much of what you say Justin, I do still take issue with the bullpen.  This brief 14 inning stretch has shown good signs, but 14 innings does not make a season for the bullpen.  It helps their overall performance stats over a very short duration, but they have have much yet to prove that they have become as awesome as you portend.  Good showing in this series though.

  4. Didn’t the bullpen do what they are expected to do? Again most guys are asked to get three out before they allow a run. Think about what a low bar that is to expect.

  5. I think your oversimplifing the role of the bullpen. Unlike starting pitchers, the bullpen has little to no margin for error. Even the best starting pitchers give up runs early in the game. There’s also more pressure to some degree on the bullpen to preserve lead or maintain the game close enough to come back because it late in the game and opportunities are few. So to say it’s just three outs is oversimplifying.
    We are all frustrated with the Dodger bullpen because of their struggles so when they finally start to perform to the level we expect them to, it’s ok to give them kudos for it.

  6. Your position is just what has become acceptable. It is no more pressure to protect a one run lead in the eighth than to pitch the fifth in a scoreless game. In fact, the starter that is pitching the fifth has already exposed his stuff to the lineup at least once and possibly to the top of the line up twice.
    I’m not saying that a reliever should have perfect inning, but three out before a run is a pretty low bar especially if a home run isn’t involved. I haven’t even suggested what the strand rate should be for a reliever.
    I know my position is in the vast minority, but quality pitchers should be able to meet those expectations a high percentage of times.

  7. Arodc03  The role of the bullpen has changed so much since I first started watching the game. Back then they were washed up veterans looking to hang on. Most were exe starters. I remember Carl Erskine, who had been having arm trouble being a mop up guy.  Now, they are specialist’s. You have lefty’s who are brought in to face1 hitter. Set up men, long men, and of course the closer. The last 3 outs in a game have long been considered the toughest 3 outs to get. Over all, most have ups and downs. Against the Giants in the series in SF, our BP struggled. Against Az, they were much better. And in this last series, they were better than before. There will be times when they blow a big game. But that is baseball. Been happening like that for over 100 years. There is no perfect solution, nor pitcher. Everyone loses sometime……limiting those losses is the trick.

  8. West Coast Ram Let’s take Ross Striplings no hitter performance again the Giants into account.   Your telling me there was more pressure on Stripling to preserve a 2-0 lead in the fifth or any other inning for that matter, no hitter intact mind you none, than Chris Hatcher coming in the 8th, with Stripling’s runner on first, no outs and Dodger Nation praying and hoping that the no hitter is preserved?  If Stripling gives up 2 runs in the fifth, it’s ok, there’s plenty of baseball to be played.  But Hatcher giving up 2 in the 8th, that’s just devastating. No question that Hatcher was under more pressure.  
    By the way, I appreciate your idea’s even though I don’t agree. Makes for good conversation.

  9. Arodc03 I don’t think that is what I’m saying at all.  My point is that had Stripling been pitching the 7th inning of a tied game or scoreless game there is more pressure on him (simply because his pitches have been exposed to the opponent multiple times) than if he gets out of the 7th with the game still tied and Hatcher comes into the game to start the 8th.  I don’t want to confuse the situation by including the effects of inherited runners because of course that places more pressure on any pitcher (starter or reliever).  In the game situation on Sunday both Hatcher and Jansen came into the game in clean innings.  Under those circumstances there in no reason to not hold the reliever at a higher level of expectations than most people do today.  It is understandable for a reliever to give up a home run once in a while, just like a starter, and that can very easily be the difference in the game.  What I’m unwilling to “accept” is when a reliever gives up multiple hits or walks that produce a run.  In those cases the reliever deserves to be highly criticized and if it continues, be replaced.  Late inning walks kill a team more than almost anything else and from the eye test is one on the leading causes of our bullpen meltdowns. 

    We have become way to conditioned to accept the concept that the last three outs are the most difficult.  I am all for pitching Jansen when the game is on the line and that could happen anywhere between the 7th and 9th inning.  Is it more pressure to come into a tie game in the seventh after a leadoff double or to face the 6-8 hitters in the 9th when you have a 1 or two run lead?  Again, I’m not suggesting bringing Jansen in the 7th and have him finish the game but simply get of the jam.  He is your highest paid and best bullpen arm.  The “save” has distorted the way we look at the most critical time of a game.

    Good discussion.

  10. I agree, the bullpen has evolved over time much like other aspects of the game. I know people still use the term setup man but I think in today’s game most teams are trying to work towards 2 closers, one for the 8th and other for the 9th inning.

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