Dodgers’ plan to stop the Diamondbacks’ running game is already in motion – Orange County Register
LOS ANGELES ― The Dodgers began the 2023 regular season with four games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a series made notable for the presence of two free agent pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner, and the cloud of dust created by the Diamondbacks’ 2-1 win to end the series, a game in which they stole four bases in four attempts.
Two of the Diamondbacks’ stolen bases came against Syndergaard, whom the Dodgers traded to Cleveland in July – a fact Manager Dave Roberts noted on Thursday. But the question of how to stop Arizona’s running game is a big one hanging over the National League Division Series.
It’s a challenge the Dodgers eventually rose to, though it took time. The Dodgers went to Arizona for their first road trip and lost three of four games. The Diamondbacks stole eight bases in that series. Five came in an 11-6 win, without the benefit of seeing Syndergaard’s slow-twitch delivery.
Arizona finished the season with 166 stolen bases, the second-most in MLB. Corbin Carroll, the probable NL Rookie of the Year, stole 54 bases in 59 attempts. Jake McCarthy was 26 for 30, Geraldo Perdomo was 16 for 20, and even veteran first baseman Christian Walker went 11 for 11.
“The majority of the players that fit the mold that you’re talking about came up through our system,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said. “We drafted them four or five years ago. So trying to make it seem like now that that was prescient – that we knew rule changes were coming four, five years down the line – we ended up drafting a lot of high athletic, speed guys that have kind of come up through our system, and it coalesced with the rule changes (limiting pickoff throws and enlarging the bases).”
Compared to the eight head-to-head games in April, the Dodgers’ five games against the Diamondbacks in August were a different story. Arizona went 1 for 3 in stolen base attempts over those five games, all Dodger wins.
“I think (the Dodgers) didn’t understand necessarily what type of game we were going to play,” in April, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Once they saw that they read it and reacted to it.”
Roberts didn’t divulge the intricate details of the Dodgers’ anti-theft strategy. But the Diamondbacks were not the only team that forced the Dodgers’ hand.
After the Dodgers lost back-to-back games in Kansas City in July, in a series that saw the Royals go 5 for 7 on stolen base attempts, shortstop Miguel Rojas initiated a conversation with Roberts about where the Dodgers’ game plan was falling short.
“Those teams that play fearless and kind of reckless have been our hump in the road,” Rojas said at the time. “It’s been Kansas City, the Diamondbacks earlier in the year, I think Cincinnati did it as well. They’re beating us on the bases without hitting extra bases, or long balls. When we play those teams we need to come out a little bit with expectations that they’re going to do that, and be ready for that rather than reacting when they start running the bases like that.”
That proved to be a turning point. In 84 games through July 3, the final game of the series in Kansas City, Dodger opponents went 103 for 119 in stolen-base attempts. In the season’s final 78 games, Dodger opponents were 39 for 52.
Likewise, the Dodgers weren’t the only team that forced the Diamondbacks to slow down.
“I think the league caught up to us and it took a little adjustment for us,” Lovullo said. “There’s an adjustment period of time. But we believe in our running game. We’ve got targets, and we know the guys can successfully do it and who they can do it against. And those are the things we’re reviewing right now.”
It starts with Carroll, a left-handed hitter, who finished the season as Arizona’s leadoff batter against right-handed pitchers and their No. 2 hitter against lefties.
Roberts said he enjoys watching Carroll “more from my living room than the other dugout.”
“When he’s on base potentially to steal a base, it just creates more tension,” Roberts said. “To keep him off the bases is probably one of our top priorities.”
Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly, who will oppose Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, is no mystery to the Dodgers. He’s made 16 career starts against them, going 0-11 with a 5.49 ERA. Kelly is 48-32 with a 3.59 ERA against all other teams in his career. “It would be nice to get my first Dodgers win ever in five years in the playoffs,” he said. … Lovullo, the Boston Red Sox bench coach from 2013-16, was interrupted during his press conference by one of his former players: the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts. “Sorry guys, gotta give him a hug,” Betts said. “He raised me.” Lovullo replied, “Good luck – but not really.” … This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Dodgers jumping in the Chase Field pool to celebrate clinching the NL West title. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall took umbrage to the celebration at the time, but he said he won’t stand in the way if it happens again. “(The Dodgers) are so good, and year after year they proved if you’re going to go somewhere, you’ve got to go through them,” Hall said. “And they’ve earned that. They have the right to celebrate however they want, wherever they want. They’ve certainly earned that opportunity.”
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