After a soggy sweep in Pittsburgh, the Dodgers (37-25) head home for a second straight series against a last-place team when the Texas Rangers (24-39) come to Chavez Ravine. Still trailing San Francisco by a narrow margin in the standings, these two soft weeks on the Dodgers schedule feel like an early opportunity to make their move back into the top spot in the National League West.
While the Dodgers haven’t nearly matched last year’s dominance through just over 60 games, they lead MLB in run differential at +89 and are only 1.5 games behind the best record in baseball. As the team *knocks on wood* continues to get healthier, there’s reason to believe a mid-season hot streak may be on the horizon for the boys in blue.
The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, have almost completely turned their focus to maximizing the value of their roster’s trade bait. It’s been three weeks since Texas has won a series — a sweep over Houston — which also represents their only series win in more than a month. With top bullpen arm and trade piece, Ian Kennedy on the IL and slugger Joey Gallo nursing a groin injury suffered Tuesday against San Francisco, two of their primary trade chips are already in disrepair as they head on the road to Los Angeles and Houston.
Even the Rangers’ most exciting young player, Adolis Garcia, has cooled off to the tune of a .214 batting average in June.
Like the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians, the Rangers have been no-hit twice already in 2021 — bad news for a team staring down Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler this weekend at Dodger Stadium.
Aside from a shot at pitching history, the Dodgers’ bats have an opportunity to take on a pitching staff that ranks in MLB’s bottom third in ERA both as starters and relievers, while avoiding the lone bright spot on the staff in Kyle Gibson. On Friday, the Rangers will send former Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz to the mound; Folty has famously struggled against the Dodgers, notably being bounced after only 2 innings in his postseason debut in 2018. For his career, he’s 1-2 with a 5.73 ERA against Los Angeles.
Unfortunately for Texas, the 2021 version of the right-hander has closely resembled a little league dad tossing batting practice from behind an L-screen.
According to Baseball Savant, Folty ranks in the bottom quarter of MLB starters in average exit velocity against, expected ERA, expected batting average against, expected slugging percentage against, K%, Whiff%, and fastball spin rate. Put simply, Folty isn’t fooling anyone. For the Dodgers, Friday likely represents an opportunity to knock Foltynewicz out early and heavily tax a struggling Rangers’ bullpen as the weekend gets underway.
Texas will follow with Kolby Allard on Saturday, a 23-year-old left-hander who has held his own by comparison to Foltynewicz and likely represents the team’s best chance at stealing a road win this weekend. Allard’s results have been respectable, although primarily in relief this season until pressed into starting action a few weeks ago. He primarily features his fastball and cutter and will try to fill up the strike zone and induce weak contact on Saturday night. Kolby Allard profiles somewhat similarly to Eric Lauer, another lefty the Dodgers have struggled mightily against in the past.
After throwing only 79 pitches in his last outing, it’s likely old friend Chris Woodward, now the Rangers’ manager, will be watching his young pitcher closely should the Dodgers manage to push his pitch count early.
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On Sunday, it’ll be another young arm in 26-year old righty Dane Dunning toeing the rubber for the Rangers. Dunning won’t blow anyone away with his arsenal of pitches, but has done just enough to avoid being punished for his 11th-percentile hard-hit rate against in 2021. Given the Dodgers’ prowess against right-handed pitching and Dunning’s very poor career numbers pitching on the road (1-3, 6.13 ERA over 9 starts), it would require quite the high-wire act for him to match his season-high 6 innings pitched.
Given the pitching matchups and directions of the two teams, it’s difficult to imagine the Rangers taking a game from the Dodgers this weekend at Chavez Ravine. It’s a weekend that represents the type of opportunity the Dodgers have seized in the past, capitalizing for runs of winning baseball that carry over into eventual series’ with other contenders jockeying for position.
In this instance, it’s a two-week stretch of opportunity before a crucial set of series with San Diego, the Chicago Cubs, and San Francisco to follow.