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NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs Padres

Written By: Wrenzie
Follow him on Twitter: @GiantProspectiv
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Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Diego Padres

Things to Know

– Neither team will be playing in their home parks. These games will be played at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas in Globe Life Park.
– Series is set to begin October 6th, allowing each team to rest up their top starting pitchers and be ready for Games 1 & 2.
– No off days during the series, so pitching depth, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, will be incredibly valuable in this series.
– The Dodgers took the season series 6-4 en route to their 8th straight NL West title.

Expected Starting Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Walker Buehler (LAD) vs Chris Paddack (SD) – Tuesday October 6th
Game 2: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) vs Zach Davies (SD) – Wednesday October 7th
Game 3: Dinelson Lamet** (SD) vs Julio Urias (LAD) – Thursday October 8th
Game 4: Mike Clevinger** (SD) vs Tony Gonsolin (LAD) – Friday October 9th
Game 5: (If necessary) – Saturday October 10th

**If Healthy

My expected starting pitcher duels could easily be thrown into the trash bin with all of the question marks that both teams have in their rotation. Kershaw could easily start Game 1 in place of Buehler if Buehler will not make it, albeit on short rest. We can even see someone like a Gonsolin or even a Dustin May start Game 1 if they want to give Kershaw the full rest.

On the other side, if the Padres do determine that either Lamet and/or Clevinger are good to go with zero restrictions, they will easily start Game 1 and 2. However, I erred on the side of caution and the Padres will have them start in the middle of the series.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Ranked as the number 1 seed in the National League, the Dodgers flexed their dominance by sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers in their three-game series played at Dodger Stadium. The Brewers didn’t really have an all-world lineup like the Dodgers did but with their stud bullpen (minus super-rookie Devin Williams), they only needed to have an early lead to have a shot. Alas, they were on the backfoot in both of their games and with the Dodgers already having a really good bullpen as well, they don’t have a shot.

The Dodgers ace Walker Buehler started in Game 1 but was forced out by the Brewer hitters by the fourth inning after his pitch count creeping towards 80 pitches while battling a blister. The bullpen did a wonderful job of shutting the Brewers offense down (lead by a brilliant Julio Urias three-inning work) in the later stages of the game.

Game 2 potentially would have been a chance for the Brewers to pounce especially against Clayton Kershaw who has a well-documented fall from grace whenever the bright lights of October shine upon him. Instead, Kershaw pitched the best game of his postseason career, shutting down the opposition for eight masterful innings with 13 strikeouts. Most especially, he looked like the Kershaw of old where his fastball-slider-curveball combo was as crisp as ever.


SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres claimed the 4th seed but ended up as having the second-best record in the National League. Their three-game slate with the St. Louis Cardinals was a fun one, and stressful one for both sides. After not having their two best starters before the series started in Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack, the Cardinals pounced on a struggling Chris Paddack en route to a game 1 victory.

The Cardinals were back at it again in Game 2, pouncing on control specialist Zach Davies. While the Padres lineup was knocking at the door in the first game and a half, they could not manage to put it all together. However, you can’t knock down a lineup this good for this long, as the Padres finally bust through the Cardinals bullpen and gave up 9 runs in the final three innings led by their young superstar Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Game 3 was a fiesta for the Padres bullpen, as they used the most pitchers in a 9-inning postseason game with 9 primarily because they don’t have any real starting options available. It was a game of whoever blinks first loses, and in the case of the two teams, it was Jack Flaherty who blinked first as Eric Hosmer sent a fastball to left-center gap for a RBI double and the Padres took full advantage of a miscue-filled 7th inning for the Cardinals to basically cement the series to their favor.


Series X-Factors

Dodgers:
Dodgers Back-End Relievers sans Kenley Jansen

Over the past couple of years, there have only been three persons in the Dodgers recent postseason run that diehard Dodger fans and even casual fans tend to point their fingers to why their team have not won a title after years of regular season dominance: Clayton Kershaw, Dave Roberts, and Kenley Jansen.

With Kershaw looking as dominant as ever in his latest start (and in 2020 in general), people now should look at Roberts and Jansen under the microscope, especially after the latter’s game 1 performance. While Jansen did lock it down to the tune of a scoreless inning, there’s something that I noticed when I looked at the game and read articles from various sites.

While Jansen’s cutter velocity was just hovering around 90.9 MPH throughout the 2020 regular season, it dipped to an average of 88.1 MPH at game where, with the slowest cutter coming in at 86 MPH with iffy movement (this article from Dodgers Digest is a great article telling the story of Jansen’s velocity dip). Borrowing this image from the article, you can definitely see the dip in his velocity in the past three seasons.

See that little dip at the right-most part of the image? That’s around September this year and boy, Jansen danced to the tune of 9 runs (7 earned) in just 9 2/3 innings of work. Even the manager took notice of the lack of oomph and quality in his closer after Game 1.

Roberts’ reliance on Jansen to close games out for the Dodgers in the last two years has been something that fans are critical of. But to be fair, a bullpen that only ranked 21st best and 9th best in baseball in 2018 and 2019, respectively does not truly have another elite option aside from Jansen aside from Pedro Baez.

However, this year, the Dodgers can claim the title of having a really good bullpen that I highlighted a couple of days ago. If Roberts decide to pull the plug on Jansen at the 9th inning (and I think he should), there is always his set-up man Blake Treinen who has done this kind of thing called closing only a couple of years ago with Oakland. There is also the young fireballer named Brusdar Graterol, who pitching the 9th inning in Game 2, that can be a reliable option as well if Roberts wants to dabble with Treinen as his Andrew Miller-type of fireman to pitch in the biggest spots earlier in a tight game. There are also a host of lefties that Roberts can tap into like Jake McGee, Adam Kolarek for the matchups.

Basically, it is not just Jansen or bust any longer in the bullpen. Roberts has a host of relievers now other than Jansen that he can trust. And that is the Dodgers x-factor for them to win this series against a potent Padres lineup.

Padres
The Padres Training Staff

It was pretty obvious that both Paddack and Davies were not effective at all in terms of providing innings when they faced against the Cards. The Dodgers are a whole different animal and having a healthy Clevinger and Lamet back are crucial.

In case both Clevinger and Lamet can not pitch at any point in the series, it will once again put a ton of pressure with the bullpen. They showed up big time in Game 3 in the Wildcard series, and manager Jayce Tingler will have to rely on them once again for the majority of this series.

Even if they will only have Lamet and/or Clevinger in limited capacity, it might still be better than their back-end starters Garrett Richards and Adrian Morejon.

Lamet has been one of the best starters in the Majors this year, where he ranked inside the top 5 in the National League in strikeouts (4th), ERA (3rd), and opponent’s batting average against (2nd). Lamet enjoyed such huge success this year by pitching off his slider, as he threw more sliders than fastballs this year based on the graph from Baseball Savant.

They say you pitch off your best pitch and Lamet certainly did that this year, where he also ranked inside the top 10 in strikeout rate, expected batting average, expected wOBA, and expected ERA. I mean,

Clevinger, who came via a trade in the famous Cleveland Indians pitching factory, gave the Padres a solid number 2 behind Lamet. While his statistics this year are only decent and he earned a bad reputation in the Indians clubhouse along with Zach Plesac, he is still capable of getting swings and misses as he is in the 75th percentile in producing whiffs.

The Padres trainers definitely have their work cut out for them to get the two back on track ASAP to give their rotation a much needed fear factor. Even if they only got one back, potentially Lamet, it will still be huge.


Something To Watch

Fighting Fire with Fire In A Place Where Oxygen Is Limited

Both of this teams are in a more vulnerable state pitching-wise when compared to their regular season versions (Buehler’s blister issues and Jansen’s September and October struggles for the Dodgers, Lamet and Clevinger’s timetable for the Padres). With both offenses capable of putting up points like they are playing in the NFL (both teams are inside the top 5 in all of baseball in SLG, wOBA, wRC+, OPS w/ RISP, OPS when late/close, ISO, HR, HardHit%, average exit velocity, and barrels/plate appearance among others), expect some high scoring games, especially when the top two starters are out and it is time for the bullpen game.

However, it is also important to note that this series will not be played in either of their home parks, as it is going to be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The table below shows how the field plays.

Park FactorsRunsHRHits2B3BBB
GLF Rank16th22nd14th24thT-14th1st
From ESPN

It was an interesting point that the field is in the bottom third in terms of allowing home runs, while both Petco Park and Chavez Ravine both ranked inside the top 10 in home runs. With both teams capable of stringing hits and long rallies it will be interesting how both teams will use this park to their advantage.

Both the Dodgers and the Padres played in this park this year so they already have an idea how the ball plays inside this new ballpark. The Dodgers played all three games against the Padres in Arlington while the Padres played a couple. Oh, and the first game that the Padres played in Globe Life?

Dodger Bullpen’s Contact-Oriented Approach vs Padres Hitters Contact Ability

Speaking of the bullpen, the Dodgers put up a dominant showing in 2020 in that front. However, something that their bullpen did not do at an elite rate is to get strikeouts, where they only posted the 13th best strikeout rate. They are even worse at getting whiffs, based on the table below.

Dodgers RelieversBlake TreinenBrusdar GraterolDylan FloroJake McGeeAdam KolarekKenley Jansen
Whiff Rate in 202022.9%15.2%23.3%34.4%23.3%30.8%

The Padres are going to get strikes because the Dodgers do love throwing it (9th least balls thrown with 5th most strikes thrown from the bullpen). However, the Padres tend to spit on strikes (26th on zone swing rate) but when they do swing on pitches in the zone, they make plenty of contact (4th in zone contact rate).

Because the Dodgers bullpen will come at you throwing strikes and induce weak contact, it might be a wise thing for the Padres hitters to attack early in the count because they can feel confident enough that if they swing and miss early, they will be tough to be strike out. However, the Dodgers pen had the 2nd lowest BABIP while the Padres are only 15th in the league in BABIP. It will be a great cat and mouse game to note.

All The Stars Are Closer

We will now take a look at the gargantuan amount of star power that this series has to offer. There are so many narratives to talk about here: from Machado facing his old team for the first time in the bright lights of October, the struggles of Cody Bellinger continues, Tatis, Jr. finding his stride.

Top 6 Padres Hitters
(based on WAR)
AVG vs. Dodgers in 2020 OPS vs. Dodgers in 2020tOPS+ vs. Dodgers in 2020
Fernando Tatis, Jr..205.62934
Manny Machado.237.69647
Trent Grisham.226.836109
Wil Myers.3641.144138
Jake Cronenworth.222.63950
Eric Hosmer.167.58331
From Baseball Reference

All in all, the majority of the Padres hitters struggled against the Dodgers in their 10 regular season matchups this year (with the exception of Myers and Grisham), with the entire offense posting a 75 tOPS+ (OPS+ against an opponent relative to the OPS+ of the team). Both Tatis, Jr. and Machado must have a big series to have a good shot to win.

Top 6 Dodgers Hitters
(based on WAR)
AVG vs. Padres in 2020 OPS vs. Padres in 2020tOPS+ vs. Padres in 2020
Mookie Betts.4291.252168
Corey Seager.207.60331
Chris Taylor.353.994134
Justin Turner.265.71766
Will Smith.294.81271
Cody Bellinger.179.50228
From Baseball Reference

On the Dodgers side, Bellinger had his second lowest offensive impact versus the Padres this year (his performance vs the DBacks are only worse), and with a slew of lefties that are ready to play the matchup game against him(.666 OPS vs. lefties in 2020), it most probably will not be the series where he will get back on track. Other lefties like Seager and Max Muncy will most likely be hampered as well (Muncy has reverse platoon splits).

An important thing to also look out for on the Dodgers is Betts. Even though he is playing out of his mind in 2020, his career postseason numbers with the Red Sox were more average than superhuman. Maybe facing the Padres will bump those numbers a good bit.


Series Prediction

This is what the NLCS should be: the battle of two titans in all of baseball this year and it would be much better if they went mano y mano in a full 7-game series. In a more abbreviated 5-game series, the Padres, while hobbled, will have a shot against the Dodgers that are also showing signs of concern.

The only prevailing question left is who will blink first. This is my unbiased opinion. It will come down to whose manager will use the bullpen smartly. No matter what happens though, I really hope that this will go the distance for the sake of baseball fans. This is also the first time a legitimate rivalry could happen between the two. If tensions will ever rise between the two teams, this will be the most perfect time for it. Enjoy this series, baseball fans.

Padres 3-2


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