Struggling Dodgers offense set to face old friend Zack Greinke

PHOENIX -- Parched and now seemingly road-weary, it would seem the last thing the Los Angeles Dodgers' thirsty offense needs is a trip to the arid desert.

Yet that’s what a run-challenged group will get starting Monday night when the Dodgers make their first 2016 regular-season trip to Arizona for three games against the Diamondbacks this week.

What really makes matters worse for the Dodgers is that an old friend will be waiting in the series opener Monday with hopes of being a not-so-gracious host. The Diamondbacks' Zack Greinke will take the ball for Monday’s game, pitching opposite the Dodgers’ Mike Bolsinger.

Knowing Greinke like they do, the Dodgers are expecting runs to be tough to come by. Knowing how they have struggled to string together hits and come through with runners in scoring position, how could they think anything else?

“I think we need to be more consistent, that’s for sure,” said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who is batting .171 (6-for-35) since the start of June. “But having said that, we have guys that haven’t gotten going yet, so hopefully things will start rolling and they start soon and we won’t be talking about this.”

Yet nobody is naïve enough to think Greinke is the avenue to take in order to get going offensively.

“First time seeing Zack, I’m sure he’s going to be up for us,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Knowing Zack, I’m sure he spent a lot of time breaking us down, trying to figure out how he’s going to attack each guy. Huge challenge.”

While Greinke’s departure from the Dodgers to the division-rival Diamondbacks was a hot topic this spring, much of that conversation cooled after the right-hander’s slow start in his new locale. Greinke had a 6.16 ERA after his first five starts, but over his last eight starts he has fashioned a much more typical 2.57 ERA.

While that mark is better now, the Dodgers know their former teammate is capable of even more. At 51-15 during a three-season run with the Dodgers that ended last year, Greinke had the best winning percentage of any pitcher in baseball during that time. His 2.30 ERA in a Dodgers uniform was second best in all of baseball during that stretch.

The only other Dodgers pitchers to ever post a 2.30 ERA or better over a three-year span are Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw.

And since baseball is a team sport, it seems necessary to mention the Dodgers won the National League West each season Greinke was on the team. At no other point in their storied history, on the East Coast or the West Coast, had the Dodgers advanced to the postseason in three consecutive seasons.

That is what Dodgers players know Greinke is capable of doing, and that is the right-hander they would have expected to face in their first head-to-head matchup, whether Greinke was pitching well or not.

It's all starting to look like a tough task for Bolsinger, who is assigned to match Greinke pitch for pitch after he was moved off his scheduled start Sunday so Julio Urias could pitch at San Francisco in the series finale against the Giants.

But while it's Bolsinger who will be asked to match Greinke on Monday, the pitchers added to the Dodgers' roster this season to cover the loss of a co-ace were Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers didn’t match the six years and $206 million the Diamondbacks committed to Greinke, instead giving Kazmir $48 million over three years and handing out an incentive-laden, eight-year deal to Maeda that only guarantees the right-hander $25 million but could be worth more than $100 million.

The returns are mixed. Maeda got off to a hot start, cooled a bit and has now been on the rebound as the Dodgers are getting him to have more trust in a fastball that is in the low-to-mid 90 mph range. Kazmir has been plagued by inconsistencies after starting the season with a sore left wrist, but he has given up more than three runs in a start just once over his last seven outings.

As a staff, the Dodgers do have the fourth-best ERA in baseball at 3.35. And while the Dodgers' mark is well below the National League average of 4.04, taking out Kershaw’s contribution gives the Dodgers a team ERA of 4.18. In games not started by Kershaw this season, the club is 21-30.

Greinke’s current 3.84 ERA would be his worst over a full season since 2010. The bonus, as far as the Dodgers are concerned, is that they did not commit a small fortune to just one guy by re-signing Greinke in the offseason. Instead, they spread that money around to other areas of the roster and the system other than Kazmir and Maeda.

On the international front, pitcher Yaisel Sierra was signed out of Cuba. Relievers Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman were added via free agency. And Howie Kendrick also was re-signed after Greinke moved on, while Chase Utley was brought back before the Greinke departure was official.

Business aspects aside, the Dodgers are facing a sizeable challenge Monday with a struggling offense facing what was considered a top Cy Young Award candidate when the season started. And if Greinke keeps delivering scoreless outings, like he has in each of his last two starts, perhaps he works his way back into the Cy Young talk after all.

“We’ve got confidence in [Bolsinger] keeping us in the game, keeping us close,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to get some guys out there and get some big hits (against Greinke). But it’s going to be a big task.”