Coming into the National League Division Series, the immediate focus is on Arizona starter Merrill Kelly, who will open this set. With an undistinguished past against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kelly is the first to admit he would like a turnaround and a rapid turnaround to give the Diamondbacks an immediate command.
Not an ordinary regular season match-up, the post-season is upon the principles and now, there is no room for compromise, timidity, or caution.
Kelly, who will be 35 on Oct. 14, has a less-than-competitive track record against the Dodgers, and this time he expects a difference. That’s easier said than done and Kelly hopes to exorcize demons from the past at the most critical game thus far this season.
Coming into the NLDS, Kelly sports a career 0-11 mark against Los Angeles and a 5.44 ERA for 16 starts. In Dodger Stadium, he is 0-5 in eight career starts and a 7.03 ERA. In 2023 alone, Kelly is 0-1 in two starts and a 7.27 ERA in Dodger Stadium. All of which portends another rocky start and a consequence to immediately drop the Diamondbacks behind in this series.
At this point, Kelly is not alone in understanding a sense of urgency.
“We haven’t played very well against (the Dodgers),” Arizona general manager Mike Hazen told mlb.com. “But now we’ve got a new season, just like we talked about. We weren’t hitting very well before we came into (the NL Wild Card) Series, and that all changed. They’re going to have to beat us. We’re a tough team. We do a lot of things really well. I think if we do those things, we’re going to give them a run for their money, for sure.”
If Kelly is out to conquer the past, his last outing against the Dodgers was encouraging. Going six innings on Aug. 9 in Chase Field, he allowed no runs, six hits, walked two, and fanned two. Keenly aware of his past against Los Angeles, he indicated to mlb.com, that playing the Dodgers in the post-season was unavoidable.
“We’re going to have to go through them either way, right?” Kelly told mlb.com. “Even if we’d had the second seed (and played) Philly and somehow got out of there, we would have had to see them after the Braves, right? I feel like at this stage, you can’t really pick who you’re going to play. At this stage, everybody’s good. Right? So, if our choices are Atlanta or L.A., I mean, flip a coin.”
The Dodgers enter this series with inflated numbers against Kelly. Third baseman Max Muncy tops all L.A. hitters with a .412 batting average (14-for-24) against Kelly with seven extra-base hits. Throughout the lineup, L. A. hitters have put up significant numbers.
- Will Smith (10-21) .323
- Chris Taylor (10-33) .313
- James Outman (4-for-9) .444
- David Peralta (4-10), .400
- Jason Heyward (5-13), .385
- Freddie Freeman (8-27) .296
Kelly draws veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw as his opening series mount opponent. In the post-season, the 35-year-old Kershaw has been vulnerable. In 38 post-season starts, he sports a 13-12 record and a 4.22 ERA for 194 post-season innings.
If the Diamondbacks are to get to Kershaw, this may not be bad timing. With the effects of a lingering left shoulder injury, Kershaw managed a 13-5 season and a 2.46 ERA in 24 starts.
While Kershaw compiled more than 20 wins against each NL West division opponent, his 22 career victories against the Diamondbacks are the fewest against any division opponent. In 44 career starts against Arizona, Kershaw is 22-12 and a 2.73 ERA. Against other West division opponents, he is 23-10 against San Diego, 26-16 against San Francisco, and 27-11 against Colorado.
All of which may portend a certain vulnerability of Kershaw to both Arizona and post-season play while Kelly believes the law of averages will swing to his side and allow for a greater competitive edge against the Dodgers than in the past.
This series … this set continues Monday night in Dodger Stadium. That’s when right-hander Zac Gallen (17-9, 3.47 for 34 starts) takes on righty Bobby Miller (11-4, 3.76 in 22 starts). After an off day off Tuesday, the series resumes in Chase Field with Brandan Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 in 18 starts) for Arizona and L. A. manager Dave Roberts, at this point, is uncertain. The Dodgers remain without starters Dustin May, Walker Buehler and Tony Gonsolin, all on the 60-day injured list.