May 23, 2024

There is no denying the addition-by-subtraction component of the Dodgers’ second-half improvement in controlling the running game.

Teams ran at will on the Dodgers for three months, racking up 101 stolen bases in 114 attempts in the first 81 games, with 20 of those thefts in 21 attempts coming with Noah Syndergaard, who is notoriously awful at holding runners, on the mound.

Syndergaard started his 12th and final game for the Dodgers on June 7 — he went on the injured list and eventually was traded to Cleveland on July 26 — and the Dodgers yielded only 41 stolen bases in 57 attempts over their final 81 games.

“Not to point one person out, but Noah wasn’t great at holding runners on, so a lot of that damage was taken on by him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That was part of it … but collectively, as a group, we just got better.”

Syndergaard wasn’t the only pitcher who struggled to contain the run game. When the Diamondbacks stole five bases in an 11-6 win April 9, completing a season-opening stretch in which they won five of eight against the Dodgers, they came off starter Michael Grove and reliever Caleb Ferguson.

The Diamondbacks ranked second in the majors with 166 stolen bases in 192 attempts and an 86% success rate this season, with leadoff man Corbin Carroll swiping 54 in 59 attempts.

Arizona’s speed on the basepaths — and the Dodgers’ ability to slow the Diamondbacks — will play a huge role in the National League Division Series, which starts Saturday night in Chavez Ravine.

“That’s a part of who they are,” Roberts said. “The most important step is keeping guys off base, getting that first hitter of the inning out. Outside of that, you have to vary your looks, understand what they’re going to do to try to create run-scoring opportunities and manage it the best you can.”

Arizona's Ketel Marte dives to score a run against the Cincinnati Reds in August.

Arizona’s Ketel Marte dives to score a run against the Cincinnati Reds in August.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Arizona, which had five players steal at least 10 bases, was well equipped to take advantage of baseball’s bigger bases and a new rule limiting pitchers to two “disengagements” with the rubber per plate appearance without penalty.

The 10 stolen bases the Diamondbacks racked up against the Dodgers in those first eight games served as a wake-up call for the eventual NL West champions, who admittedly were a little flat-footed coming out of the gate.

“There was talk in spring training about the new rules, but once the season started, I just didn’t appreciate how aggressive some teams were going to be,” Roberts said. “So we had to really get up to speed on how we vary looks, speed up our times to home plate and get better at our pickoff plays.”

Arizona general manager Mike Hazen said it was not his intent to put together a team filled with speedy, athletic players such as Carroll, a 2019 first-round pick, outfielder Jake McCarthy, a 2018 first-round pick, and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, a 2016 signing out of the Dominican Republic, who could take advantage of the new rules.

“The majority of players who fit the mold that you’re talking about came up through our system — we drafted them four or five years ago,” Hazen said Friday. “So trying to make it seem like now that was prescient, that we knew rule changes were coming four, five years down the line …

“We ended up drafting a lot of high-speed, athletic guys who came up through our system, and it coalesced with the rule changes. As the rule changes came out, we felt like we had an opportunity to make a jump from where we were last year and turn into a different type of offense than we had before. And we’ve had a lot of success with it.”

For the Dodgers to win the series, they’ll need to contain Carroll, the rookie leadoff man who hit .285 with an .868 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 25 homers, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 76 RBIs and 116 runs and went four for seven with a homer, two walks and two RBIs in Arizona’s wild-card sweep of Milwaukee.

“Speed, as they say, doesn’t slump, and he can run,” Roberts said. “He can get that infield knock. He can homer. He’s an exciting player. Hangs in there versus left-handers, hits righties. So what does it do? It just creates some tension if he gets on base. He’s also a guy who can slug you, so you’ve still got to make good pitches.

“I enjoy watching him more from my living room than the other dugout. When he’s on base potentially to steal a base, it just creates more tension. To keep him off the bases is probably one of our top priorities.”

The other way to slow a running game is to build early leads and continue to tack on like the Dodgers did in their five August wins over the Diamondbacks, when they yielded only two stolen bases while outscoring Arizona 30-9.

“What’s that old saying — a good defense is a good offense?” Dodgers backup catcher Austin Barnes said. “We know who they are. We know what they’re gonna do. They’re gonna try to put pressure on you and run the bases, and we’re just gonna go out there and play baseball.”

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