Dodgers, down 2-0 to D-backs, look to ‘flip script’

Dodgers, down 2-0 to D-backs, look to ‘flip script’
  • PublishedOctober 10, 2023


LOS ANGELES — It was all too familiar, both because of the reputation of this era’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the way this year’s National League Division Series has played out.

For a second straight game, the Dodgers, a 100-win team that surged through most of the summer, saw their starting pitcher fall flat and their offense waste what little opportunities they had to make up for it. They lost once again to a young, scrappy Arizona Diamondbacks team that compiled 16 fewer regular-season victories, this time by a 4-2 score — and now they’re in danger of another early elimination by a division rival they typically dominate.

“Nobody dreamed of this,” Mookie Betts said Monday, his team down 0-2 in this best-of-five series. “But you gotta play the cards that you’re dealt.”

The Dodgers’ hand consisted of a severely shorthanded starting rotation heading into this postseason, a deficiency that has cost them in ways they never imagined.

Sixteen-year veteran Clayton Kershaw allowed six runs and recorded only one out to begin Saturday’s game, and 24-year-old rookie Bobby Miller allowed three runs before getting pulled in the second inning two nights later, throwing only 28 of his 52 pitches for strikes. The Dodgers’ bullpen kept the game reasonably close, but their high-powered offense once again struggled against an opposing starter they previously had their way against.

Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen, Arizona’s two best starting pitchers by a wide margin, combined for a 5.93 ERA in six starts against the Dodgers during the regular season.

In the first two games of this series, they limited them to two runs in 11⅔ innings.

“We had some opportunities that we didn’t cash in on,” Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy said, “and that’s on us.”

The Dodgers had runners on the corners with two outs and a two-run deficit in the fifth, but Gallen froze Freddie Freeman with a full-count curveball that landed in the middle of the strike zone to end the threat. They had the bases loaded and the go-ahead run on first base in the sixth, but Andrew Saalfrank struck out James Outman, and Ryan Thompson got Kolten Wong, the last bat off the Dodgers’ bench, to ground out.

The Dodgers have gone 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 13 runners in this NLDS.

Betts and Freeman, the two perennial MVP candidates who fueled their offense all year, have combined for one hit in 13 at-bats.

“Not what we need to do,” Freeman said.

“All of us gotta get going,” Betts added. “We had a couple of opportunities, and we just didn’t cash it in. For me and Freddie, that’s kind of our role. We’re not doing it. I take ownership in that. I just gotta figure out a way, man. There’s no excuses.”

The D-backs, coming off an impressive sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in their wild-card series, are the third team in major league history to take a 2-0 series lead against an opponent that won 15 or more regular-season games, with one of the others being the Atlanta Braves over the Dodgers in the 2021 NL Championship Series. The Dodgers, of course, have made a habit of dominating regular seasons and falling short of expectations in the playoffs.

Their toughest exit, many in the organization have admitted, came last year, when they lost in the NLDS to a division-rival San Diego Padres team they had dominated in recent years. This year’s NLDS, against a D-backs team they beat in each of their last five regular-season constests, is following a similar script.

“Some of our guys have been in this spot before as far as facing elimination,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think we’ve just got to pitch better at times and take better at-bats. I think that we have the guys to do it. And we’ve just got to take better team at-bats and win the next game, win Game 3. If we win Game 3, we’ll pick up the pieces and go from there. We’ve won three games in a row. We’re very familiar with this ballclub. They’re playing good baseball, and we’ve got to find a way to flip the script.”

The Dodgers boarded their short flight to Phoenix late Monday night and will stage a workout from Chase Field on Tuesday afternoon. Twenty-four hours later, they’ll turn to veteran Lance Lynn and rookie Ryan Pepiot, two starters expected to pitch in tandem, in an effort to extend another season that is supposed to last much longer. Kershaw will follow in a potential Game 4.

Road teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series have advanced 90% of the time. The only three teams to overcome such a deficit were the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, the San Francisco Giants in 2012 and the New York Yankees in 2001.

The Dodgers are now looking to becoming the fourth, one win at a time.

“Obviously we’re all frustrated, but the main thing we can do now is we just gotta focus on the next game,” said Betts, slashing .095/.231/.143 in 26 plate appearances during his last two postseason runs with the Dodgers. “They pitched well, and we’re just not hitting. It’s obviously frustrating, but you have to turn the page. You don’t want to just keep harping on the things you didn’t do.”


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