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NLDS Notebook: Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers

   10-06-2017
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Los Angeles wins the series, 3-0. 

Done D-Backs

The D-Backs had a chance until the very last at-bat of a season in which they outperformed expectations and reemerged as a force in the NL West. But five-time all-star Paul Goldschmidt swung at a wicked breaking ball in the dirt from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen leaving David Peralta stranded on second as Los Angeles celebrated. “Chased ball four there,” Goldschmidt said. “Would have liked to get on, give J.D. (Martinez) a chance.” While the D-Backs players felt good about what they'd accomplished this season, it was also a moment when veterans on the team wondered what could have been. “I just think of how rare these opportunities are in the postseason so you never know when you're going to get that opportunity to be back,” Goldschmidt told AZCentral.com.  “There's nothing we could've done different. We gave it everything we had. It just wasn't good enough these past few days.” It was the fourth trip to the postseason and the fourth exit in the Division Series round for 14-year catcher Jeff Mathis. “It stings,” he said. “It stings a lot. Especially after the year we've had and the special bond that was created in this clubhouse. I mean it's some of the most fun I've had on a baseball field or in a clubhouse in a long time. And that's something that I'll hold on to and think about every time this stinging starts in my gut."


 

National League Division Series, Game 3 
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Oct. 9, 2017

The Brink

It's not a good place to be. The odds are bad. It's not a good feeling. But being on the brink of elimination from the postseason often brings out the best from generally ultra-competitive #MenOfSteel baseball players, so the D-Backs are going to give it a shot, anyway. “I think we've done everything we can to prepare and be ready,” said reliever Archie Bradley. “You have to go out and execute and right now we haven't been going out and executing. We haven't been doing the things that have helped us win all year.” After two ugly losses in Los Angeles, the heroics of Bradley and Robbie Ray in the D-Backs' wild card win over the Rockies last Wednesday seem like ancient history. “It was all self-inflicted,” said Ray, who struggled with command over 4 1/3 innings in Game 2. “I was just trying to do too much in situations where I didn't need to.” There have been 24 instances when a team lost their first two games on the road, and only two of those teams have gone on to win the series, so maybe the idea is just to go play baseball and compete. “I don't want to make it anything bigger than it already is,” infielder Daniel Descalso said. “I don't want to put any extra pressure. What we have to do first is win on Monday … and figure out the rest later.”

The D-Backs' ace

Arizona ace Zack Greinke, who pitched the Wild Card game, will need a solid performance if the D-Backs are to stave off elimination in Game 3. The Dodgers have battered the D-Backs' staff for 17 runs on 24 hits in the first two games of the Division Series. Greinke, 33, was 17-7 with a 2.40 ERA during the season but he gave up six hits and four runs over 3 2/3 innings in the Wild Card game with the Rockies.  That was the second elimination game of Grienke's 14-year career and his start on Monday night would be his third. Greinke told reporters he was a little nervous in his Wild Card start. “But, I felt it helped, if anything,” Greinke said. “As long as you're not, like, overly nervous, it just gets you locked, like you're more focused and more locked in sometimes, and that's how I felt last game.” There's nobody his teammates would rather have on the mound for them in a game of this importance than the former Cy Young Award winner (2009) and four-time all-star. “I know he loves challenges like this,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “Nobody prepares better. Nobody is going to work more to make sure that on that day when he takes the mound that he's going to be comfortable, confident and ready. So, if you've got to pick one guy to stop this situation that we're in, I think we've found the right guy in Zack Greinke.”

Justin Turner overdrive

It would seem Justin Turner really likes hitting at this time of year. He has reached base safely in 17 of his 18 postseason games going back to 2015, batting .387 (24 for 62) with six doubles, a triple, three homers and 17 RBIs. The veteran second baseman and team leader owns the highest batting average in Division Series history (1995-2017) with a .455 average (20 for 44) over 14 games. But Turner doesn't care much about his stats and told his teammates just that when he gathered them near the mound after batting practice the day before the Division Series opener. Asked what he told them, Turner responded: “In the playoffs your numbers, our numbers, individually don't matter. It's about doing whatever it takes to win a ballgame. If you make an out, whatever happens, it doesn't matter. It's about finding a way to pick up the next guy, find a way to get it done. Also just to embrace it and be in the moment and enjoy it.” For what it's worth, Turner did ok in the regular season, too, finishing third in the NL with a .322 average and a second-in-the-league .415 on-base average.

It's Yu-r Time

As the Dodgers hit the road for Game 3 in Phoenix, their newest pitcher Yu Darvish will take the mound for the start. In nine starts after being traded at the July deadline, Darvish went 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA with Los Angeles. The right-hander will be making his third career postseason start, with the prior two coming with Texas. “My focus is to just control what I can and do what I can do,” Darvish said on Sunday. 


 

National League Division Series, Game 2 
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Oct. 7, 2017

Ready Ray

Throwing a measly 34 pitches a few days ago in the Wild Card game wasn't about to keep Robbie Ray from starting Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers on Saturday, a team he dominated during the regular season, going 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 31 2/3 innings. The 26-year-old Tennessean even went 5 for 12 (.417) and knocked in two runs against them. After checking in with the left-hander, manager Torey Lovullo said he “could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted the ball tomorrow and he was ready." “I feel great. My arm feels great and ready to go,” Ray said. “I wouldn't lie to him. I wouldn't give this team anything about 100 pct. of myself. I feel like that would be cheating me and cheating the team. So I feel 100 pct. and I feel ready to go.” Ray emerged among the game's elite pitchers this season, going 15-5 with a fourth-in-the-NL 2.89 ERA. His 218 strikeouts ranked third and he led the league with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. There's no question in his mind that resurrecting a curve ball he'd given up in the minors was the main reason for his improvement. . “The biggest thing going into the off-season was adding another pitch. I felt like if I could add one more pitch to my arsenal that it would help all my other pitches. Basically last year I was a two-pitch guy. My slider was more of a strikeout pitch than anything. It was tough to throw it for strikes. So I needed something that I could land for strikes that wasn't just a fastball. So I was confident going in that I knew it would be a journey, I knew it would be tough, but I was going to learn something new.”

The Fernando Experience

Maybe tonight will be the night we get to see Fernando Rodney shoot an arrow high into the Los Angeles sky? The D-Backs' closer has 300 often-heart thumping saves over a 15-year career with eight teams and thrives on frequent use, so he's raring to go. At 40, the big, fun-loving Dominican right-hander with the crooked hat still reaches the high 90-mph range with his fastball, but it's the knee-buckling change-up he throws nearly 40 pct. of the time that's been the difference for him. He recently told USA Today how he accidentally came upon the pitch in rookie ball with the Dodgers' organization in 1999 while playing catch with teammate Samuel Rivera. “Trying to throw a two-seamer, I hit my partner in the ankle,'' Rodney recalled. “He said, ‘What was that?' I told him, ‘A two-seamer, that's what we're practicing.' And he said, ‘Don't throw that anymore. That thing moves a lot. I don't want it to hit me again.''' While he had a few blowups, which come with the territory, Rodney saved 39 games in 45 opportunities for the D-Backs.

Secret weapon?

First baseman Christian Walker got his first postseason hit, a single as a pinch hitter for pitcher Zack Godley in the Diamondbacks' NLDS Game 1 loss. Walker, a 26-year-old from Norristown, Pa., who had 27 at-bats for the Orioles over 13 games in 2014 and 2015, was a final addition to the D-Backs' postseason roster. But after winning the Pacific Coast League's MVP Award (.309, 34 homers, 114 RBIs) for the Reno Aces, he also offers the D-Backs a powerful right-handed option off the bench. After not making it to the big leagues in 2016, Walker was at somewhat of a crossroad in his career. After the Orioles put him on waivers in spring training, he was released by two more teams before the Diamondbacks gave him a chance. “I felt like I had something to prove,” he told The State, the newspaper of the University of South Carolina, where he starred for College World Series champions in 2010 and 2011. “I could have definitely performed better in the spring, but at the same time it's tough when you're bouncing around so much. Needless to say I was just really looking forward to this season and getting some consistency and getting my schedule and then being able to get lots of consecutive at bats and really showing everybody what I was capable of.”

 

National League Division Series, Game 1 
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Oct. 6, 2017

NL West matchup begins in L.A.

Nineteen regular season meetings weren't enough. The Diamondbacks (93-69 in regular season) advanced in the NL Wild Card game by defeating Colorado, 11-8 in Phoenix, and now face another West division opponent – MLB's top regular season team, the Dodgers (104-58). Los Angeles captured their fifth straight West division crown – this year by 11 games – but it was Arizona that won the season series, 11-8. As a team, Arizona has hit 32 home runs against the Dodgers this season, with Jake Lamb leading the way with six big flies and 14 RBIs in 17 games. At Dodger Stadium the two teams split the 10 meetings. “There are no secrets, for sure,” Dodgers' pitcher Clayton Kershaw said on Thursday. “I think when it comes down to it, you just go out there and try to compete and just be better than them. You're not going to outthink them. You're not going to out this or that. They know what you do. I know what they do. At the end of the day, you have to go out there and compete. It's a good lineup out there, with JD and what he's done over there the last two months has been pretty incredible.”

Kershaw looks to tame DBacks

Clayton Kershaw, a finalist for the 2017 Players Chooice Award as the NL's Outstanding Pitcher, once again anchored a stellar pitching staff with an 18-4 record and a 2.31 ERA. Since 2011, Kerhsaw's 118 wins are second only to Max Scherzer (120 wins), and his 2.10 ERA since 2011 is tops. This year against Arizona, Kershaw has been dominant – in two starts the 29-year-old left-hander was 2-0, and only allowed one run over 15 1/3 innings pitched, good for a 0.59 ERA. He also held Diamondbacks' hitters to a .118 clips, allowing just six hits, compared to 19 strikeouts. For Kershaw, quite possibly the last thing that he has yet to conquer is the postseason. With a career postseason mark of 4-7 and 4.55 ERA, the native of Dallas, Texas, knows there is still more to accomplish. “I know what to expect, I guess, which is always a good thing,” Kershaw said. “But other than that, I think every situation is different and every year is a little bit unique as far as who we face and how our team sizes up. But thankful for another opportunity.”

The mismatch

OK, Clayton Kershaw has a few Cy Young Awards and seven All-Star Game appearances, but the D-Backs' Taijuan Walker isn't concerning himself with his seemingly lopsided matchup against the Dodgers' future Hall of Famer in Game 1. ”I think the biggest thing is to just focus on myself, focus on my game plan, focus on the pitches I have to execute,” said the 25-year-old from Shreveport, La., who will be making his first postseason start. “Kershaw is the best in the game, but I think I've just got to focus on myself.” Walker finds himself starting Game 1 because the D-Backs' Nos. 1-2 starters, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, were spent in Arizona's wild Wild Card Game win over the Rockies on Wednesday night. Walker was held off the roster in that game and told to be prepared to pitch in either Game 1 or 2 against the Dodgers. In three starts against the Dodgers this season, Walker posted a 3.24 ERA, so that gives him a little confidence, but he's also seen less-experienced guys struggle this postseason. “Watching Jon Gray and even (Luis) Severino from the Yankees, we're all young pitchers, first time throwing in the postseason. I think the biggest thing is controlling our emotions and taking it one pitch at a time. I think you can't go out there and let the adrenaline really get to you. You have to take a deep breath every pitch and really focus on each pitch.”

D-Backs' confidence

Don't tell Jake Lamb or any of the other D-Backs that the Dodgers have some advantage because they had an MLB-leading 104 wins this season. “In our clubhouse, we're saying it's our time,” Lamb said. “This is our year, and we feel like we have the best chance to win the World Series. That's a great team [in L.A.]. You've obviously seen the season they've had. But in our clubhouse and with our guys, we know how good we are.” Lamb has a strong case to make. The D-Backs won 11 of the 19 games the division rivals played against one another in 2017, including their final six games in late August and early September – a span over which the Diamondbacks outscored the Dodgers 40-13. “I just think we have guys [who are] not intimidated,” manager Torey Lovullo said Wednesday. “Look, the Dodgers got on a tremendous run there, and I think they were steamrolling teams and intimidating teams, and I don't think we have that mentality. We love that battle mind-set. We love that challenge.”

Rookie Bellinger shines

Cody Bellinger burst onto the scene this season, belting 39 home runs – a National League rookie record – and driving in 97 runs in 132 games. A finalist for the Players Choice Awards' 2017 NL Outstanding Rookie, Bellinger will be making his postseason debut, but is no stranger to playoff baseball and the Fall Classic. Father Clay Bellinger won two World Series championships with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. “I definitely remember the World Series parades,” Cody told the Associated Press. “I remember being there. I remember (the games) more because of the videos.” The young Bellinger – he's only 22 years old – is ready to contribute on the highest levels of the sport. “I've dreamed about it for a long time,” Bellinger said. “It's weird. I've always seen commercials for the postseason, but now I'm actually in it. I'm going to do what I can to help them win, (but) we're going to stay the same. Everybody is doing the same thing they did for 162 games. There's just going to be a little more excitement and adrenaline in the air.”​

Check out our #MLBPlayers411 series for more information on some of the players participating in the postseason: 

Arizona Diamondbacks

JD Martinez

Ketel Marte

Robbie Ray

Jake Lamb

Los Angeles Dodgers

Chris Taylor

Kenley Jansen

Cody Bellinger