As the Dodgers put on their costumes yesterday for the final road trip flight of the season out of Denver (a team tradition), the mood in the clubhouse was presumably a lot lighter than it looked like it was going to be a few hours earlier. In the 9th inning on Thursday, the Dodgers looked destined to trail by at least 2 games heading to Arizona, with very little time to earn back lost ground. Down to their final strike, Trea Turner would sneak a ground ball through the right spot in the defense to tie the game – ultimately setting up an extra innings win thanks to Max Muncy’s 2-run homer in the 10th.
With the win, the Dodgers had taken 2 of 3 from the Rockies at Coors Field – and before their plane left Denver, the Dodgers were back to within a game of the Giants following San Diego’s walkoff win. It was a more difficult task than met the eye for Los Angeles – Colorado has been a great home team all season, and scored 19 runs over 3 games despite facing Julio Urias, Walker Buehler, and Max Scherzer. Coors Field can do a number on even the league’s best pitching, and the trio that has carried the Dodgers through most of their season learned that the hard way this week.
While winning 2 of 3 was a very good result for the Dodgers, the way in which they managed to do so ought to be encouraging to fans wondering about the team’s postseason readiness. They managed to win both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s games in extra innings, continuing a sharp turnaround for a team that really struggled in one run games and in extra innings early on. As the calendar turns to fall, the wins do not become easier to come by – if the Dodgers are going to make a deep run, they’ll need to be able to stomach the pressure that comes with playing in tight games night in and night out.
As the Dodgers depart Denver, the Giants arrive; if the Dodgers are going to complete the comeback and win the NL West, Colorado has an opportunity to do Los Angeles some major favors if they continue to hit like they did this week. In the meantime, it’s up to the Dodgers to handle business. This weekend, that means sweeping the worst team in the National League.
Friday, September 24
6:40 pm PT
Tony Gonsolin (3-1, 2.93 ERA) vs Humberto Castellanos (2-1, 4.11 ERA)
Friday night’s tilt in Arizona will be a stark change for the Dodgers in a few ways. They’ve now spent 7 days on the road between Cincinnati and Colorado, playing in hot outdoor environments and stadiums still relatively full of energy. By comparison, Chase Field will resemble a cavernous morgue, home to the 49-104 Diamondbacks and the very few loyal fans still soaking up the air conditioning. The Dodgers will need to manufacture their own energy, something they became all too familiar with during the stretch run and Postseason in empty ballparks last season. If nothing else, there will almost certainly be a strong contingency of Dodgers fans to greet them in Phoenix.
For Tony Gonsolin, the foe is very familiar – tonight marks his 5th start of the season against Arizona, despite not having faced another team more than once. The Diamondbacks likely won’t be very happy to see him – over his previous 4 outings, he’s only allowed a 2.51 ERA over 14.1 innings. Tony Gonsolin’s ability to have success will in large part hinge on his ability to live in the strike zone – dating back to July 19, his ability to pitch deep into games has been hindered by the fact that he’s walked at least 2 hitters in all 5 outings. He pitched out of the bullpen on Sunday, struggling through 2.1 innings in relief of Clayton Kershaw while allowing 3 earned runs. After dealing with the very difficult lineups to navigate in Cincinnati and Colorado, Gonsolin is one of many Dodgers’ arms looking forward to facing the Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers lineup will look to continue the offensive momentum they gained in Colorado against a young, hittable pitching staff in Arizona. The first pitcher they’ll see will be Humberto Castellanos on Friday night, making only his 21st big league appearance and 12th for Arizona. The Dodgers have never seen the 23-year old righty, who has struggled to a 7.07 ERA so far in September. They’ll look to punish him early, and work their way deeper into an Arizona pitching staff that allowed 19 runs over the past 3 nights to the Braves.
Saturday, September 25
5:10 pm PT
Clayton Kershaw (10-7, 3.27 ERA) vs Zac Gallen (2-10, 4.53 ERA)
Saturday night will be Clayton Kershaw’s third start since returning from a 2-month long injured stint, and his second time facing the Diamondbacks in the last 12 days. Kershaw’s return has thus far been successful, potentially providing a huge boon to a pitching staff already well-stocked heading into October. Last Sunday, he worked his way up to 74 pitches over 5 innings, only allowing 1 run to the Reds. My guess is that he’ll push the envelope a little further still tonight, seeking a solid 6 innings or 85-90 pitches. It will be his 39th career start against the Diamondbacks, against whom he is 18-10 lifetime with a 2.75 ERA.
Zac Gallen’s 2021 has been a disturbing turn toward disappointment for Arizona after watching the young righty look like a Cy Young contender at times last season. He picked up the loss just 11 days ago at Dodger stadium, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks over 5.1 innings on September 13. Since the beginning of August, Gallen has allowed at least 3 earned runs in 7 of 9 starts while going 1-5. He ranks in the bottom 40% of MLB starters in BB%, Hard Hit %, Whiff %, and Chase Rate per Baseball Savant – put simply, he’s not fooling anyone this season.
Sunday, September 26
1:10 pm PT
Julio Urias (18-3, 3.10 ERA) vs Humberto Mejia (0-2, 7.20 ERA)
Julio Urias will look to continue his sterling 2021 campaign on Sunday afternoon, looking for his league-leading 19th win. He’ll likely need to have this one if he wants to be able to call himself a 20-game winner by season’s end, an impressive line on any pitcher’s resume. Like most of the Dodgers’ pitching staff, Colorado gave him trouble his last time out – the 4 runs he allowed Tuesday night were the most he’d given up in a start since July 16, the Dodgers first game after the All-Star Break. He’s beaten Arizona three times already this season, allowing only 3 earned runs over 16.2 innings of work.
He’ll be opposed by the second half of Arizona’s new two-headed Humberto Monster, Humberto Mejia. Mejia, a 24-year old native of Panama, has been shelled in his three starts this season. Sunday marks only his 7th time pitching on a Major League mound. He’s never faced the Dodgers.
Let’s keep it real here for a moment: the expectation in Arizona this weekend is a series sweep. Given San Francisco’s consistently excellent play all season, it would be silly to expect more than a single win from Colorado this weekend. Opportunities against a club like Arizona this late in the season are not to be taken likely – let’s hope the Dodgers take care of business in the desert before coming home for 2021’s final regular season week.