Jake Lamb is Arizona’s All-Star third baseman, Clayton Kershaw the sport’s preeminent starting pitcher. For more than three full seasons, they have played in the same division.
Yet the left-handed-hitting Lamb has never faced Kershaw. When Kershaw has taken the mound, Lamb has taken a seat on the bench, focusing on the matchup between the Dodgers’ ace and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
“As much as I want to be playing, it’s fun sitting back and watching those two guys go at it,” Lamb said. “It’s one of the best versus one of the best. Anything can happen at any given moment.”
Goldschmidt is a serene superstar, an earnest Texan and a noted Dodgers killer. Only one visiting player, Sammy Sosa, has ever batted 200 or more times at Dodger Stadium and bested Goldschmidt’s .968 on-base-plus-slugging percentage there.
Against Kershaw, he morphs into a much more mortal hitter. He has struck out 17 times in 47 plate appearances, his .686 OPS better than most major leaguers against Kershaw but obviously unspectacular.
“The guy can strike out twice,” Lamb said, “and then come up in the third at-bat and clip him.”
Goldschmidt did not finish 2017 well, hitless in his last 17 regular-season at-bats. The severity of his sore right elbow remains unclear. At the start of September, he missed a week after receiving a cortisone shot, and his .555 OPS in the month was more than 400 points worse than his mark in any other month.
He then homered on the first postseason pitch he saw, a hanging curveball from Colorado’s Jon Gray on Wednesday. Goldschmidt later ripped a 101-mph fastball into the outfield for a single.
Lamb, too, produced a big game, the first four-hit performance of his major league career. Now, he may face Kershaw for the first time in Friday’s Game 1 of one National League division series. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was still deliberating about it Thursday evening.
“It’s a tough decision,” Lovullo said. “You’re walking off a game where you get four hits and you’re right in the middle of everything versus lefties and righties, it just didn’t matter.”
Lovullo noted Lamb’s success this season — he hit 30 homers — and stressed again how difficult of a decision was in front of him. He then concluded: “That’s why I’m the manager, right?”
In his career, Lamb has been far inferior against left-handed pitching. Two Diamondbacks managers have largely stayed away from starting him against tough left-handers. He said Thursday that there were “a couple” pitchers he could face this postseason who he would tell Lovullo he felt uncomfortable facing.
“We’re honest with each other like that,” Lamb said.
If not Lamb, Lovullo could opt for journeyman Adam Rosales at third base, or Brandon Drury at third and Chris Owings at second base. Owings has not played since July 30, when an errant pitch broke his right middle finger. But he appeared in the Arizona instructional league on Thursday, and the Diamondbacks left open the possibility he would take a flight to Los Angeles and be activated in the morning.
Their roster still required some sorting out, and they had an additional issue crop up Thursday, when Major League Baseball launched an investigation into why coach Ariel Prieto wore an Apple Watch in the dugout during Wednesday’s wild-card game.
Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen each said Prieto made an honest mistake. Each man also said the team would cooperate with all of the league’s requests.
So, a divisional rivalry will extend into the division series, with both teams complimenting each other before Thursday’s workouts. Arizona’s superstar made a key point about their familiarity with each other.
“If you have the team’s respect and you lose,” Goldschmidt asked. “does it really matter?”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura