PHOENIX — Not that it appeared to bother them much as they sprayed champagne and otherwise celebrated their victory in the National League wild card game deep into the night Wednesday, but the Arizona Diamondbacks now head into the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a severely compromised starting rotation. The task, at least from a distance, appears daunting: The Diamondbacks must take on the NL’s winningest team without the services of either of their top starters for Game 1 and perhaps Game 2, as well.
Because they had to burn not only ace Zack Greinke but also near-ace Robbie Ray just to survive the Colorado Rockies in a wild 11-8 win at Chase Field — thanks to Greinke’s inability to carry what was at one point a six-run lead past the fourth inning — they will be forced to open the NLDS on Friday night at Dodger Stadium, opposite Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, with someone from the back end of their rotation.
Those options are, in roughly the order of likelihood, right-handers Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley and lefty Patrick Corbin. None necessarily dooms the Diamondbacks to a loss in Game 1, but none would inspire the same degree of confidence as either Greinke or Ray.
“We haven’t totally walked through that [decision] yet,” Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo said after Wednesday night’s win. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board and come up with the best solution.”
A more intriguing decision awaits the Diamondbacks for Game 2. Because both Greinke and Ray threw shortened stints Wednesday night — the former with 58 pitches in a 3 2/3-inning start, the latter with 41 pitches in a 2 1/3-inning relief appearance — one of them, more likely Ray, could be available to start Saturday night on two days’ rest. It is an important assignment in more ways than one, as the Game 2 starter would also be available to start a potentially decisive Game 5 on full rest.
“Zack and Robbie are certainly candidates,” Lovullo said late Wednesday. “We’ve just got to figure out how they’re doing and how they’re feeling.”
Ray, in particular, has dominated the Dodgers this season, starting five times against them and going 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA while striking out 53 batters in 31 2/3 innings. Their futility was best represented by shortstop Corey Seager, who faced Ray six times and struck out all six times. All told, Ray led the NL, among qualified starters, with an average of 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
“We haven’t cracked the code on Robbie Ray,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts told reporters in Los Angeles this week. “If we do see him, we’re going to have our hands full … He’s been tough on us.”
The Diamondbacks head to Los Angeles confident in the knowledge they were the better team in a head-to-head setting during the regular season, winning 11 of their 19 games against the Dodgers, including the last six in a row, in late August and early September, accounting for nearly half of the Diamondbacks’ season-high 13-game winning streak and contributing greatly to the 1-16 stretch that halted the Dodgers’ momentum.
“I just think we have guys [who are] not intimidated,” Lovullo said Wednesday. “Look, the Dodgers got on a tremendous run there, and I think they were steamrolling teams and intimidating teams, and I don’t think we have that mentality. We love that battle mind-set. We love that challenge.”
Perhaps it was just the champagne talking, but in the aftermath of their wild card victory, the Diamondbacks appeared to relish the upcoming opportunity to take on the winningest team in baseball.
“In our clubhouse, we’re saying it’s our time,” third baseman Jake Lamb said. “This is our year, and we feel like we have the best chance to win the World Series. That’s a great team [in L.A.]. You’ve obviously seen the season they’ve had. But in our clubhouse and with our guys, we know how good we are.”
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