NLDS Game 2: Dodgers clip Diamondbacks, take 2-0 series lead

Tim Brown
MLB columnist
Los Angeles DodgersYasiel Puig celebrates after a single against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League Division Series in Los Angeles, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (AP)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers, 104-game winners in the regular season, on Saturday night defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 8-5, in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium. They lead the best-of-five series, two games to none, and are a win from returning to the National League championship series, where a year ago they were eliminated by the Chicago Cubs.

Though their offense faded somewhat in the season’s second half, and batted a league-low .223 in September, the Dodgers have scored 17 runs in two games against the Diamondbacks.

Game 3 is Monday night at Chase Field in Phoenix. Zack Greinke, a 17-game winner in the regular season, will start for the Diamondbacks. Trade deadline acquisition Yu Darvish will start for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers had the lowest OPS against lefties in the NL in 2016. They sorted that out in 2017, when only the Colorado Rockies hit left-handers harder. Still, Robbie Ray, the breakout lefty for the Diamondbacks, proved especially difficult on them, as he was on most. In five starts against the Dodgers, Ray was 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA. He struck out 53 Dodgers in 31 2/3 innings. The Diamondbacks won four of those starts.

The difference, the Dodgers hoped, was Ray’s recent schedule, which had been anything but routine. He’d last made a full, regular start on Sept. 26, 11 days before Saturday night. Between that start and Game 2, he’d taken the ball twice. Once on the final day of the regular season in Kansas City, when he threw 23 pitches, shortened because of the possibility he’d be needed in the wild-card game. He was needed, when Greinke was unable to finish the fourth inning against the Rockies. Ray threw 34 pitches over 2 1/3 innings Wednesday night, and three nights later was on the mound at Dodger Stadium.

Rich Hill, conversely, had been winless in four starts against the Diamondbacks, though he did pitch well in two of the four. His ERA was 5.03.

Just Friday afternoon, as he sat behind a podium fielding questions about his Game 2 start (and at times distracted by the television, which showed a division series game from the American League), Hill was asked what had become of postseason starting pitchers. By the time he took the mound Saturday evening, their first-inning ERA was nearly 24. More than a few haven’t looked quite like themselves.

Hill grinned and said, “I’ve noticed.”

Well, in Saturday’s first inning, he walked A.J. Pollock on a full-count curveball (which he appeared to have a higher opinion of than did plate umpire Phil Cuzzi) and then delivered a 1-and-0 fastball Paul Goldschmidt hit 430 feet. The ball, which landed near the back of the Dodgers’ bullpen, seemed to be in the air for a very long time, certainly long enough for Hill to consider the merits of an 88-mph fastball over the middle of the plate to a guy who’d hit 36 regular-season home runs and another in the wild-card game.

Ray wasn’t much himself either. While his fastball left his hand at its usual velocity – 95, 96 mph – it did not always go where intended. Through two innings Ray walked three batters, twice on three-ball sliders. Yasiel Puig drove in one of them with a groundout. Of Ray’s first 39 pitches, 20 were balls.

In the fourth inning, the Dodgers singled three times against Ray to load the bases with one out. Logan Forsythe scored on a wild pitch, Ray’s third. Austin Barnes scored on an infield single by Chris Taylor. The Dodgers led, 3-2.

They scored four more in the fifth inning, their third of at least three runs in the first two games of the series. Ray hit a batter and left the game with one out in the fifth. In those eventful 4 1/3 innings, he’d look back on having allowed four hits and four runs. Also, on the three wild pitches and hit batter, all over 88 pitches, many of them imprecise. Curtis Granderson singled off the bench, then Forsythe, Barnes and Puig contributed run-scoring hits. The biggest of the three was by Barnes, who turned on a two-strike curveball by Diamondbacks reliever Jimmie Sherfy and lined it into the left-field corner. Two runs scored. And by the end of the fifth the Dodgers led, 7-2.

The Diamondbacks drew to within 7-5 in the seventh, when pinch-hitter Brandon Drury hit reliever Brandon Morrow’s first pitch into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run. Morrow had not allowed a home run this season, through 170 batters in the regular season and four in the postseason.

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