You remember the postseason series where one or two pitchers heroically lead their team to unexpected success. Orel Hershiser in 1988. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. Madison Bumgarner in 2014. Those were great stories, alright. But they outshine what usually happens when a team doesn’t have a deep or functional rotation in the postseason: They lose.
Here lie the 2023 Dodgers, who built their rotation out of Spinal Tap drummers and couldn’t overcome it.
Except, hold on, here. Are you really assuming the Dodgers can’t win three games in a row against the Diamondbacks? They had a five-game winning streak against them this past August. The curse of a short postseason series is also a blessing; there just aren’t that many games, which means there’s potential for chicanery on either side of the series.
The Dodgers would sure like to trade places with the Diamondbacks right now, though. They have a lot of clawing to do.
NLDS Game 3: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Start time: 9:07 p.m. ET on TBS
Pitching matchup: Brandon Pfaadt vs. Lance Lynn
Game 3 pitching matchup
Diamondbacks: RHP Brandon Pfaadt
2023 stats: 3-9, 5.72 ERA, 96 innings, 94 strikeouts, 1.41 WHIP
The Diamondbacks were forced to use Pfaadt as their Game 1 starter in the wild-card round, and it worked about as well as his season stats suggested it would. He allowed three runs, seven hits, one walk and a homer in 2 ⅔ innings, while striking out four. That’s the Brandon Pfaadt Experience, at least this season. He can miss bats. He doesn’t allow too many free baserunners. The National League loved hitting against him in his rookie season, though.
Still, the thing about mercurial pitching prospects is — in any given game and against any given team — they can spin a brilliant start without advance notice. Pfaadt threw at least six innings of shutout ball in three out of his last eight starts. None of those teams had Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman, but you get the idea. The arm is there. It’s the execution that’s a little off … until it isn’t.
Dodgers: RHP Lance Lynn
2023 stats: 13-11, 5.73 ERA, 183 2/3 innings, 191 strikeouts, 1.39 WHIP
Look at the two ERAs from these starting pitchers. Every 900 innings, Lynn will allow exactly one more run than Pfaadt. If you don’t believe this, then you simply don’t believe in math. And it’s not surprising that they’re so close in run prevention, considering they have the same profile — if not for all the hits and home runs, they’d both be aces. Of course, that’s kind of like saying that without all those quills, a porcupine would be a tiny capybara. It’s not exactly wrong, but it sure helps to pay attention to the quills.
Credit the Dodgers for having Lynn at all, and he hasn’t been as bad with them as his season ERA might lead you to assume. He had a 3.38 ERA and averaged six innings over his last four starts. He allowed 15 earned runs over two wretched starts in late August/early September, and if you ignore those, his ERA with the Dodgers was 2.62.
Which is another porcupine-capybara kind of thing to do. But he can keep the Dodgers in the game, and he’s not exactly pitching against Zack Wheeler.
Game 3 X-factor
Mookie Betts in the first inning
Mookie Betts doesn’t have a hit in the NLDS, which is getting him some rough local press. He’s also seen Pfaadt six times in his career, putting three hits, a walk and a double against him. Dodgers fans didn’t have anything to cheer about after the second pitch of Game 1. The Diamondbacks’ quick flurry of triple-digit lasers changed the hope of a fresh postseason series into the hopelessness of an early postseason hole quickly.
If Betts can do something — anything — out of the leadoff spot, the Dodgers will immediately rediscover some of the hope that’s been melting away.
“This is a good Dodgers lineup. I think mixing is going to be the major key, especially early on. In Milwaukee, it was mainly fastball, slider. And I think there’s some adjustments that need to be made. And that’s kind of been the learning point going forward is being able to not show your strengths first time through and then adjust.”
– Brandon Pfaadt on how he plans to attack Dodgers hitters.
(Top photo: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)