The Padres open an important three-game set hosting the Dodgers tomorrow, fresh off an off-day today after their three-game sweep in Pittsburgh.
The Padres begin the series six games ahead of the Dodgers; that could expand to as much as a rather decisive nine or shrink to a rather uncomfortable three depending on the outcome of these three games.
I’ll break down how they match up with the Dodger offense after the jump.
On the surface, the Dodgers appear to be a team that likes straight pitches and little else:
2010 Dodgers run values per 100 pitches:
Fastball: .14 runs above average
So, they can hit heat and changeups, but flail against breaking balls and cutters. Simple enough: throw ’em the bendy stuff, right?
It’s not quite that cut-and-dried. Manny Ramirez is currently on the disabled list for the Dodgers, and his trend against pitches looks strikingly similar to the team’s one:
2010 Manny Ramirez run values per 100 pitches:
Fastball: 1.82 runs above average
You can see that Manny is certainly one of the big contributors toward bringing the Dodgers’ run values on the fastball and changeup up. He has the best fastball numbers on the team, and the second-best changeup numbers, behind Reed Johnson‘s stellar 11.13.
Johnson’s also on the DL.
Take the 6.8 runs Johnson and Ramirez have created off of changeups this year, and the Dodgers go from being the fourth-best team against changeups this year (8.1 runs above average) to 13th (1.3 runs above average). Taking away Ramirez’s 9.7 fastball runs also moves them from 11th to 15th in that category.
Therefore, the Dodgers don’t have the clout against fastballs or changeups that their total numbers indicate. Ramirez and Johnson do both drag down the slider numbers, but even without them, the Dodgers are in the bottom ten of teams against sliders.
What this means is that the Dodgers can hold their own against fastball and changeups (and curves, to an extent, as well), but there’s no one pitch that the team really pounds. They are very weak against cutters and sliders as well.
This means that the outlook for Jon Garland and Clayton Richard, the Padres’ first two starters in the series, is nowhere near as bleak as it appears. Both rely heavily on fastballs, and Garland works in a cutter as well.
Then again, Furcal and Ethier hit well against just about everything, so they’re a tough matchup for just about any pitcher. Loney and especially Kemp have trouble staying back on breaking/offspeed stuff, so they’re a little bit more workable for Garland.
Garland can’t afford to leave a fastball over the plate to Furcal and especially Ethier. He’ll need to at least flash his offspeed stuff to Kemp and Loney to keep them off the harder pitches, as he lacks the velocity to simply throw it by them. The rest of the Dodgers lineup shouldn’t be too much trouble for him, but, of course, anything can happen.
Richard, also a fastball-reliant pitcher, will have to deal with Furcal and Kemp as well. He does tend to do well against lefties, so he should have an easier time with Loney and Ethier than the stats would indicate.
That said, the Dodgers have some righties beyond Furcal and Kemp who can hit fastballs: Russell Martin, Casey Blake, and even Jamey Carroll. Martin and Blake struggle against sliders, but Richard almost never throws his slider to righties, preferring to use a changeup that isn’t very good. Martin and Blake can handle the pitch. Carroll can too, although he may not start.
With several righthanded fastball hitters staring him down, Richard is facing a pretty tough matchup. I wouldn’t expect greatness: maybe a 6 IP, 4 ER start.
Finally, there’s Correia, who matches up well on a pure pitch-by-pitch basis. He’s got five solid offerings, and one of them is a slider that could give the Dodgers fits. He’s also got a cutter and a curve that could work well, keeping hitters off his fastball and changeup.
Correia has had trouble keeping his pitches in the strike zone, though, and has struggled with walks. The Dodgers are one of the more patient teams in baseball, so he has to put the ball in the zone.
Correia certainly has the stuff to pitch well in the final game of the series: it’s location that will be the deciding factor.