A Tale of Two Teams

Today the Arizona Diamondbacks begin a short two game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. This is the second meeting between these two teams and the first in Los Angeles this year. During the first series at Chase Field the Diamondbacks won the first game in convincing fashion only to lose the next two games and the series. Arizona was outscored 18-12 in those three games which doesn’t seem too bad until you realize they won the first game 9-4 meaning that in the two losses they were outscored 14-3 by their divisional opponents. Since that time the Diamondbacks have continued to struggle offensively and also their bullpen. The Dodgers on the other hand have gotten extremely and are running away with the division. Los Angeles is particularly hot at Dodger Stadium where they have won their first 10 games and remain the only team undefeated at home.

These are the two teams that in pre-season estimation would be battling for the divisional lead in the National League West. After the first month of the season it would appear that the experts got one half of the equation right. The Dodgers look to be real led by Manny Ramirez and former Diamondback Orlando Hudson they appear to be able to score runs at will. I came into the season questioning the Dodgers starting pitching and so far have been proven very wrong. I had given the edge to Arizona from a pitching perspective. I felt Arizona with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren were clearly the favorites and as a staff I thought the Diamondbacks were the class of the division and probably the National League. Of course that was before Webb left his start on Opening Day and landed on the disabled list through at least the first 7 weeks of the season. Dan Haren has stepped up but it has not been enough to match what the Dodgers have done. The Dodgers staff has accumulated a 3.93 ERA through the first 26 games compared to Arizona’s 4.28 ERA. With the exception of Hit By Pitch (HBP) and Wild Pitch (WP), the Dodgers lead the Diamondbacks in every pitching category.

The difference between these two clubs is even more pronounced when you look at the offensive numbers. The Dodgers lead the National League in team batting average with a .284 average. The Diamondbacks are last in that category with a .229 average. Arizona is not only last in the National League, they are last in all of Major League Baseball. Comparing the Dodgers offense to the Diamondbacks is like comparing night and day. There is not a single offensive category that Arizona leads the Dodgers. While I hate to point out the obvious I think the addition of Manny Ramirez has made all the difference. Prior to the trade that brought Ramirez from Boston the Dodgers and Diamondbacks suffered from many of the same offensive woes. Both teams had a core of young players who had not been proven at the Major League level. There were stretches of inconsistency where the teams would go from feast to famine at the plate. After the arrival of Manny the young Dodger hitters began to gel and live up to their potential. In particular James Loney and Andre Ethier have really stepped up their games. It is not that the young Dodger hitters are more talented than the Diamondbacks hitters nor do I think that the coaching is better in Los Angeles. Rather I think the young Dodger players have benefited from learning from Manny on a daily basis watching how he goes about his business and how he prepares for the game. I never would have believed that Manny Ramirez would be such a positive role model on any team but I have to admit he is.

Last season at the trading deadline when the Dodgers took a chance and traded for Manny Ramirez; the Diamondbacks countered by trading for slugger Adam Dunn. While I like Adam Dunn, I am not sure he was the right type of player that the Diamondbacks should have targeted. Arizona was already a line-up heavy on free swingers that strike out a lot. Adding a player whose reputation is as a high strike-out hitter solidified in the Diamondbacks young players minds that it’s ok to swing for the fences and missing that mark is ok. Granted Dunn also takes a lot of pitches and the Diamondbacks hitters could have learned that from him but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead Dunn came over to Arizona and went into a slump. It was almost as if Adam was learning from the Diamondbacks players rather than vice versa.

So what should we expect from these next two games at Dodger Stadium? We should expect to see great starting pitching from both sides. We should expect to see the Dodgers grind out hits and play station to station as they try to pick away at an Arizona defense that has a tendency to have mental defensive lapses resulting in errors. We should expect to see the Diamondbacks hitters struggle against a strong Los Angeles pitching staff and be held in check with limited scoring opportunities. In the end the Diamondbacks will pull their starter earlier than they want because they have to pinch hit for him to try and manufacture some offense. This will of course lead to more work for the already vulnerable bullpen and in the end the Dodgers hitters will take advantage of this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dodgers extend their home winning streak to 12 and push the Diamondbacks farther down the standings.

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