For Dodgers’ All-Star Game participants Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, and most of the coaching staff, this weekend’s series in Denver comes without the normal burden of travel and adjustment to the altitude when playing at Coors Field. After watching Monday’s Home Run Derby, it would be difficult to blame pitchers for both the Dodgers and Rockies for wishing the second half started somewhere a little closer to sea level.
As the Dodgers open the second half, they’ll be looking to finally put some consistency on display. A team with immense talent picked by some experts to set the all-time regular season wins record, the Dodgers will work to prove people right about them between now and early October. Despite a first half that never saw the Dodgers hit their stride for longer than a week or two at a time, LA still leads MLB in run differential and sports the second best record in baseball as the season’s second half begins.
As many who have watched the team night in and night out will tell you, though, they’ve not come close to realizing their potential just yet.
In the coming weeks, the Dodgers’ primary focus points as an organization will be to get healthier and leverage the approaching trade deadline to make the team better heading into the final two months of the regular season. While a team without many holes, The Dodgers’ pitching needs have been exposed over the first half of the season due to injury and ineffectiveness. With Kershaw presently sidelined (although hopefully briefly) and Trevor Bauer likely completely out of the picture, they’ll move David Price into the rotation starting Sunday and will lean heavier on him and Tony Gonsolin as they manage the workloads of young arms like Walker Buehler and Julio Urias.
This weekend’s series in Colorado represents an opportunity to set the tone for the second half while taking on one of baseball’s currently weakest ballclubs. Let’s take a closer look at how the matchups line up.
Friday, July 16
Julio Urias (11-3, 3.64 ERA) vs Antonio Senzatela (2-8, 4.58 ERA)
Given the Dodgers’ relative failure to live up to expectations in the first half of 2021, it’s safe to say they’ll be hungry as the second half begins. Fortunately, they ought to eat well on Friday with Antonio Senzatela on the bump for Colorado. Senzatela has faced Los Angeles twice this season, allowing 11 earned runs in 6 total innings of work, all in early April. Since then, he’s established himself as a somewhat more reliable option at home, where he’s pitched to a 3.75 ERA over 10 starts.
Senzatela’s problems this season have mostly stemmed from an inability to fool hitters – his Chase Rate, Whiff%, Average Exit Velocity, and xBA (expected batting average against) all rank in the bottom 20% of MLB pitchers in 2021 per Baseball Savant. Against the Dodgers, he’ll need to find a way to induce soft contact to have a chance at success. If there’s one factor working in his favor, it’s his 90th percentile BB% – he doesn’t give away at-bats and forces hitters to put the ball in play.
Julio Urias will look to build on a strong finish to the first half that saw him allow 2 runs over 13 innings in starts at Washington and Miami. When given 6+ days of rest between starts in his career, Julio is 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in 12 such outings. If he can avoid his infamous first inning trouble, he’ll be aiming at giving the Dodgers some much needed length heading into 3 games at elevation followed by a 7-game homestand, all without an off day.
Saturday, July 17
5:10 pm PT
Walker Buehler (9-1, 2.36 ERA) vs Chi Chi Gonzalez (3-5, 5.51 ERA)
Like Senzatela, the Dodgers haven’t seen Alexander “Chi Chi” Gonzalez since early in April, when he pitched 5 innings over two appearances in their opening series in Denver. He was ineffective on April 1 despite being credited with the win, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and a walk over 2 innings of relief. When he reappeared that Sunday, he was lights out, tossing 3 hitless innings in relief en route to a 4-2 Rockies loss at the hands of LA. At 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA over 7 career appearances, Chi Chi has been about as effective as any Rockies pitcher against Los Angeles over the last few years, a statement that says more about recent Rockies pitching than it does about Gonzalez’ work on the mound. Still, it’s difficult to imagine Gonzalez’s matchup with the Dodgers being anything but an offensive outburst for LA as he sports one of the ugliest Baseball Savant pages in the league (bottom 5% in xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, K%, and Whiff%). It’ll be a disappointment if the Dodgers let him complete even 5 innings.
When Walker Buehler takes the mound at Coors Field, he’ll be looking to exorcise some demons in a ballpark nobody particularly loves to pitch at. His 4.78 ERA at Coors Field is his worst at any ballpark where he’s made 4 or more starts. He did have a relatively successful outing there during the Dodgers’ opening series on April 3, tossing 6 innings of 2 run ball in a game the Dodgers would go on to win, 6-5. If he can provide a performance similar to that one, the Dodgers should take a lead into the later innings on Saturday night.
Sunday, July 18
12:10 pm PT
David Price (4-0, 3.23 ERA) vs Kyle Freeland (1-3, 5.48 ERA)
For most of 2021, a scheduled start for David Price has signified a Johnny Wholestaff game for the Dodgers, piecing together bullpen arms to complete 9 innings. Exiting the All-Star Break, the plan has changed somewhat for LA given the litany of issues they’ve encountered as a starting rotation. Price now re-enters a role he’s been familiar with for the majority of his career as a traditional starting pitcher, and the Dodgers hope the results mirror those he’s seen in the role most of his time in the big leagues. Given the buildup required for a pitcher to truly step into an inning-eating starter’s role, it’s unlikely Price will pitch into the 6th inning or beyond – as such, the Dodgers will hope to create plenty of offense against Kyle Freeland to take pressure off their bullpen.
Freeland hasn’t pitched against the Dodgers since September of 2020 when he allowed 4 runs over 6.1 innings at Coors Field, a game the Dodgers won 9-3. Since the start of 2019, the Dodgers have had their way with Freeland. Over that span, his 4 starts against LA saw him allow 14 earned runs and average 4.5 innings per start, going 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA.
It is worth noting that Kyle Freeland has actually pitched quite well over the past few weeks, however – over his past 3 starts, he’s only allowed 3 earned runs over 16 innings against the Pirates, Cardinals, and Padres. The Dodgers also haven’t hit lefties well this season either, ranking 23rd in batting average within that split. To finish the series on a high note, the Dodgers will need to force Kyle Freeland into the zone and crush his mistakes.
Playing at Coors Field is never easy – the elevation is difficult to get used to for opposing players, and pitchers’ breaking balls are never as sharp as they expect them to be. Against this Rockies team, the Dodgers are at a clear advantage. It would go a long way for LA to get solid outings from their starters and take advantage of the elevation offensively to establish a groove before a huge home series with San Francisco starting Monday.