The Dodgers flew from Cincinnati to Denver in the same position they were in when they arrived in Cincinnati: one game behind the San Francisco Giants, despite a record that would win most divisions in most years with relative ease. It’s been the story of the season for Los Angeles – an excellent season measured by wins and losses dampened by the reality of the Giants’ historic turnaround. With 12 games still to go, the Dodgers certainly have time to pull past San Francisco to win the NL West – but the margin for error shrinks with every passing day.
Heading into Colorado, the Dodgers are faced with a much more difficult task than meets the eye. The Rockies (70-79) are far from the bottom feeders most pundits imagined, and are a dangerous 45-27 at Coors Field. They’ll play a huge role in the NL West race this week, without any chance at all to win it; after the Dodgers leave Denver on Thursday, the Giants will arrive for a weekend series.
As has been the case for weeks now, the Dodgers’ singular focus ought to simply be on what’s in front of them. They have 4 series left, playing 3 games in each – 2 series on the road this week, and 2 series at home next week. When they depart Denver, they’ll fly to Phoenix for a 3-game weekend set with the terrible Diamondbacks. After a day off the following Monday, they’ll start a home series with San Diego and Milwaukee to end the season. The Padres, now 4 full games behind St. Louis for the final Wild Card spot, may have already seen their opportunity to play in October disappear entirely by next week. The Brewers will almost certainly have locked up their division by the season’s final weekend in Los Angeles – with any luck, that’ll lead to the Dodgers avoiding Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the season’s final three game set.
The path ahead isn’t terribly easy, nor overwhelmingly challenging for Los Angeles. It’s a mixture of teams in different positions with differing motivations, all of whom the Dodgers need to beat if they’re going to topple San Francisco’s NL West stranglehold.
Tuesday, September 21
5:40 pm PT
Julio Urias (18-3, 2.99 ERA) vs Antonio Senzatela (4-9, 4.06 ERA)
Tuesday night’s series opener will give the Dodgers another opportunity against Antonio Senzatela, a pitcher they were thoroughly dominated by on August 29. That Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, “Senze” pitched 7 scoreless innings while only allowing 2 hits to secure a shutout win for Colorado, 5-0. It was a frankly uncharacteristic performance for the right-hander against the Dodgers, a team he’s now faced 13 times and still holds a subpar 6.18 ERA against.
Quietly, Senzatela has actually turned in quite a few strong starts for Colorado now over the season’s final 2 months. He’s pitched at least 6 innings and allowed 3 or fewer runs in 7 consecutive starts, dating back to August 11, going 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA. Senzatela’s Baseball Savant page, however, tells the story of a pitcher who does very little well, with the exception of avoiding walks. When digging deeper, the data shows that his .269 BABiP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) over those 7 starts is his lowest over any such span this season – generally a decent measure of good luck. I think regression is a safe bet for Antonio tonight, and like the Dodgers chances to knock him back down to earth in a hurry.
The Dodgers will send Julio Urias to the mound, looking for his league-leading 19th win. He’s pitched well in Colorado this season, winning his 2 previous starts while allowing a solid-at-elevation 3.55 ERA. He’s been as consistent as anyone not named Max Scherzer on the Dodgers’ staff, and ought to give them a great chance to start the series on the right foot tonight.
Wednesday, September 22
5:40 pm PT
Walker Buehler (14-4, 2.39 ERA) vs German Marquez (12-10, 4.16 ERA)
Wednesday night will be a battle of hard-throwing righties when Buehler and Marquez square off, as well as a rematch of 2018’s NL West deciding Game 163. Coors Field hasn’t always been kind to Buehler; his 4.43 ERA there is the highest of any ballpark he’s made 4 or more starts in. This season, though, he’s been solid pitching there – over 2 starts, he’s allowed only 4 runs over 13 innings and gone 1-0. After three consecutive months posting an ERA under 2.00, September (6.19 ERA) has been rough for Buehler by comparison. Regardless, the Dodgers will like their chances any time he takes the mound.
German Marquez pitches Wednesday for Colorado and has seen mixed results this season. He’s been a strange pitcher for the Rockies in that he’s been much better pitching in the thin air at home (8-2, 3.16 ERA) than at sea level (4-8, 5.38 ERA). Marquez throws hard, averaging over 95mph with his fastball – but has struggled to locate his pitches as effectively since the All-Star Break, and has been hit harder as a result. His last three starts have been a rollercoaster in and of themselves, sandwiching 6 shutout innings against a solid Philadelphia offense between two outings that saw him hit hard by the Braves and Nationals.
Marquez can be a very tough customer, as the Dodgers have learned over the years. He’s pitched to a 2.52 ERA against Los Angeles since his debut in 2016, succeeding over a stretch that has seen Colorado mostly dominated in the head-to-head matchup. The Dodgers will need Buehler to be sharp on Wednesday night in what amounts to another very important game in the NL West division race.
Thursday, September 23
12:10 pm PT
Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.08 ERA) vs Kyle Freeland (6-8, 4.50 ERA)
The Dodgers will wrap up their series in Colorado with likely Cy Young winner Max Scherzer on the mound. The Trade Deadline acquisition of Max Scherzer for Los Angeles seems poised to go down as one of their best ever, rivaling even the 2 months they saw Manny Ramirez produce in 2008. After another scoreless start Saturday on a scorching hot and humid day in Cincinnati, Scherzer has now gone 36.2 innings since last allowing a run. The Dodgers are undefeated in games he’s started for them, as he’s posted a 0.78 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 7 walks. Thursday’s start will remarkably be Max’s 5th consecutive day game, a situation it’s safe to say he’s looked pretty comfortable with over the last few weeks.
The Rockies will counter with Kyle Freeland, another pitcher the Dodgers have become very familiar with over the past several years. Freeland, like Marquez, has had a tumultuous September so far. He was battered by the Giants and Phillies to the tune of 11 earned runs over 10.1 innings, losing two consecutive starts, before pitching much more effectively at Washington his last time out. Thursday will be his 4th start against Los Angeles this season, having gone 1-2 over the previous 3 with a very solid 2.84 ERA. Freeland has however been a lot better on the road than at home this season, more closely resembling what you’d expect from a Rockies starter.
After facing two straight hard-throwing righties, Freeland’s left-handed profile will be a very different look for the Dodgers’ offense. They’ll need to be patient and take advantage of his mistakes to have a big offensive day – although they may not need one with how Max Scherzer has been dealing on the mound.