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The Arizona Diamondbacks went into the unfriendly confines of Chavez Ravine for a four-game series against the best team in the NL West, and the results weren’t pretty. The D-backs were mercilessly swept by the Dodgers in the series, which included the first-ever doubleheader between these two teams.
Despite riding high on the unexpected success this team experienced early in May, this set of games against the top team in the division was a litmus test for the D-backs. In this case, the measurement concluded that Arizona still has a lot of ground to make up. Here are five takeaways from this series against the Dodgers.
1. Starting pitching was exposed
The D-backs came into the series with the second-best starting pitching ERA in all of baseball behind the Dodgers. Their collective 2.59 ERA was indeed impressive. Madison Bumgarner boasted the best ERA of his career after seven starts. But that was all before they ran into the the buzzsaw that is the Dodgers’ lineup.
Diamondbacks starting pitchers gave up 22 earned runs in four games. The difference in starting pitching ERA between the two teams was staggering.
Their 11.88 ERA was by far the highest in a series all season long. It completely sank their numbers for the season after being ranked as high as first in ERA in MLB.
Both good and bad defense behind them has played a role in their ERA success. Some pretty close plays that became errors ensured runs scored this season were unearned and not charged to the pitching staff.
On the flip side, the return of Nick Ahmed not only gave manager Torey Lovullo another desperately needed right-handed bat, but it also helped anchor the defense. With Ahmed, his presence seemed to bring leadership to the infield that they were lacking earlier in the year. His absence due to an undisclosed injury was noticeable.
Bumgarner didn’t stray too far from his normal self in game one, but Merrill Kelly had his worst outing in over two years. Kelly gave up eight earned runs on five hits in only two innings. It was a disastrous outing that hopefully does not have lingering effects on his confidence.
Tyler Gilbert returned to the rotation and looked solid for two passes through the Dodgers’ lineup. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it through three and got roughed up in his final inning of work. Zach Davies didn’t have his best stuff either in the finale, lasting only four innings after giving up five earned.
This was the first series where starting pitching didn’t give the team much of an opportunity to win these ballgames. It’s also the first series where starting pitching looked more like we expected them to and less like one of the best staffs in baseball.
2. The bullpen has improved
Meanwhile, the bullpen — which has been unreliable this season to say the least — was actually quite good in this series. They out-dueled the Dodgers pen with a 3.52 ERA in relief.
Caleb Smith was outstanding in long relief of Kelly’s very bad outing. Smith pitched three scoreless innings and only gave up one hit. He has started to put together some great outings after a rough start to his season.
Joe Mantiply leads the league in scoreless appearances, with 18 of his last 19 scoreless. He has been the D-backs most reliable arm in the pen this season. Even Mark Melancon had a scoreless outing that wasn’t a save opportunity.
Despite the lack of the consistency this season, the Diamondbacks have sifted through their bullpen to find the relievers Lovullo can count on.
3. The offense has regressed
After a hot stretch where it looked like hitting coach Joe Mather had turned things around for this team with runners in scoring position, they couldn’t bring runs in unless it was off the bat of Christian Walker.
The D-backs went 5-for-24 with runners in scoring position in this series for a .208 batting average. This by far isn’t their worst batting average in a series with RISP, but it did make a difference. Arizona ended up losing two out of the four games by one run and one game by two runs.
Speaking of Walker, he continues to be at his best against the Dodgers. Coming into the series with one homer already in his pocket from 2021, the D-backs’ first baseman hit three dingers to make it four consecutive home runs at Dodger Stadium.
4. The Dodgers are who we thought they were…
Even with the pieces of their starting rotation missing, the Los Angeles Dodgers put the Diamondbacks in their place in this series. Facing Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman back-to-back should be illegal. Trea Turner is a hitting machine and continues to rake. Max Muncy and Justin Turner were both having slow starts to the season, but that didn’t stop them from waking up in this series against Arizona.
But they’re not unbeatable. Not only did the D-backs already win the first matchup of the year against the Boys in Blue, but they also kept three out of four games in this series within striking distance. They might be a better team for now. However, Arizona can be encouraged by how they played, even after being swept in a series like this.
5. …And so might be the D-backs
The Diamondbacks were quickly reminded of how good the Dodgers are from top to bottom. But aside from the second game in the doubleheader, they hung in with a team whose payroll is over three times the size of theirs. It may make you question if the D-backs really are an above-.500 team, but it shouldn’t make you question if this team has improved from their 110-loss season last year.
The D-backs have overachieved this season to many, except for those men who put on a Sedona Red jersey every day for this team. Every single one of those coaches and players believes this team can win, and they’re not wrong. But it is going to take the Diamondbacks playing flawless baseball to compete with the elite teams in the NL West like the Dodgers. While they’ve shown flashes of being able to play at that elite level, they still haven’t done it consistently. And it was completely absent in all four games of this series.
Top photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports