Diamondbacks Erupt in Game 1 Rout at Dodger Stadium

Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

In their Wild Card Series, the Diamondbacks were the comeback kids, the sixth seed that had limped their way into the postseason with a .451 second-half winning percentage and erased deficits of multiple runs on back-to-back days to beat the Brewers in Milwaukee. But on Saturday in Los Angeles, there was no mistaking it: this team can be a serious threat. Arizona came out punching in the first inning, with hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, chasing the left-hander after just a third of an inning – the shortest start of his Hall of Fame career. Before the Dodgers knew it, the Diamondbacks led 9-0, a hole too deep for Los Angeles to climb out of:

The second pitch of the game, a 73 mph curveball, was smoked by Ketel Marte at 115.7 mph and ate up James Outman in center field, leaving Marte on second with a double. It was good for the second-hardest batted ball of the over 21,000 hit off Kershaw in the Statcast portion of his career. In all of Statcast history, just two hitters – Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton – have tagged a pitch thrown at 73 mph or slower with an exit velocity that high. It was a harbinger of things to come, the first of eight hard-hit balls in the opening inning, which amounts to one of the most impressive first-inning onslaughts in recent memory – no team has unleashed more hard-hit balls in the first inning of any game in over five years. Arizona plated six runs in the first and three in the second, and the focus – even Dave Roberts’ focus, as he shared in a third-inning interview – shifted to what a blowout here means for the rest of the series.

Dodgers fans can take solace in the fact that Los Angeles’ bullpen will have Sunday’s off day to recuperate after 8.2 innings pitched on Saturday. Roberts got the length he needed from Emmet Sheehan and Shelby Miller, limiting how much he had to use the rest of a bullpen that might have its work cut out for it this series. But that off day serves Arizona’s starting pitching plans quite well, too, giving them the opportunity to start ace Zac Gallen on regular rest – and have Game 1 starter Merrill Kelly and Gallen available again for a potential Game 4 and 5. The Dodgers are scheduled to counter with rookie Bobby Miller in Game 2.

In any case, when all was said and done Saturday, the Diamondbacks had handed the Dodgers their most lopsided playoff loss since 2013, and their most lopsided playoff loss ever at Dodger Stadium. The National League’s six seed has stolen home field advantage away from their Goliath, with the best pitcher in either clubhouse available to start Game 2. That put Los Angeles in a somewhat unfamiliar position – after another 100-win season and a 10th division title in the last 11 years, the Dodgers seemingly had their backs against the wall before their first playoff at-bat:

Most Lopsided Dodger Home Playoff Losses
Year Game Opponent Score Differential
2023 NLDS G1 ARI 2-11 -9
2016 NLCS G4 CHC 2-10 -8
2021 NLCS G4 ATL 2-9 -7
1974 NLCS G3 PIT 0-7 -7
1966 WS G2 BAL 0-6 -6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Bob Costas put it well in just the bottom of the first: “The two best teams in the National League – clearly – this season and over many seasons, could be on the brink, forced to win three out of four, just to do what they were expected to do.”

I hesitate to wade too deep into Playoff Kershaw Discourse – the man is 35 years old with a shoulder that has delivered over 3,000 innings of professional baseball. His postseason experience, which spans 12 postseasons over 16 years, has run the gamut from the dismal to the phenomenal. He battled through 24 starts this season to somehow lower his career 2.48 ERA despite a 4.03 FIP and 3.57 xFIP. On Saturday, he just plain didn’t have it, and the Diamondbacks were more than ready to pounce on his flat stuff.

Kelly, meanwhile, was handed a golden opportunity to shake off some Dodger Stadium demons a week before his own 35th birthday. Nothing will cure playoff debut jitters like a 6-0 lead before your first pitch, and Kelly’s performance was rock solid. He allowed just three hits over 6.1 scoreless innings, holding the Dodgers’ top five hitters – Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Max Muncy, and J.D. Martinez – to just a 1-for-15 night. Kelly pitched effectively to the edges of the strike zone – particularly with his cutter – and his signature changeup, which has been one of the most productive pitches in the majors this season, earned him some swinging strike threes outside the zone:

As for Arizona’s bats, there’s been little to complain about in the early days of October. After scoring a total of three runs in their final four games of the regular season, the Diamondbacks have scored 22 times in their first three postseason games. They have eight homers so far, including four on Saturday night off the bats of Gabriel Moreno, Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, and Tommy Pham. Six of those eight long balls have come from Moreno, Carroll, and Thomas – a trio of 23-year-olds.

Thomas’ home run Saturday, though it came well after the game was out of reach, was particularly notable for him having won a 14-pitch battle with Dodger reliever Michael Grove, during which the light-hitting lefty fouled off 11 pitches and took two balls before getting ahold of a slider that caught too much of the middle of the plate. According to MLB stats wizard Sarah Langs, it was the longest plate appearance resulting in a home run since June 2021, and the longest in the postseason since the league has reliable pitch data. The Diamondbacks seemed to win every battle on Saturday, whether it was landing an early punch in the nose or a late blow.

Heading into Sunday’s down day, the Dodgers – a supremely talented team with an ocean of playoff experience – might not exactly be on the ropes, but they are set back on their heels, and they have some serious work to do to against Gallen to swing the momentum back in their direction. A day off is usually welcome, particularly at this time of year, but I have a feeling the Dodgers are itching to reset the score to 0-0 and try again in Game 2.

Chris is a data journalist and FanGraphs contributor. Prior to his career in journalism, he worked in baseball media relations for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

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7 months ago

Confused why schedule has Sunday off for the NL teams. The AL teams off tomorrow makes more sense since it is a travel day, right?

7 months ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

I’m guessing they don’t want to face off with NFL but I hate it too

7 months ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

It’s to stagger the schedules.