The numbers do not inspire confidence. They do not foretell doom, but they do dampen the thought of a rematch between these two clubs at this park in October. In dropping two of three to the Chicago Cubs, including a 4-0 loss Thursday at Wrigley Field, the Dodgers operated at an obscene rate of offensive inefficiency. The coming weeks will tell if the output this week was an anomaly or a harbinger.
On 24 occasions during these 27 innings, a Dodger came to bat with a runner in scoring position. Only once did a Dodger supply a hit. The team stranded 26 runners and managed only four runs in all. The Cubs combine elite defense with a diverse, stingy pitching staff. The Dodgers (5-5) could not solve the puzzle during these three games and could not handle the stress of high-leverage opportunities Thursday.
“We missed the big hit all day,” shortstop Corey Seager said.
Manager Dave Roberts noted how his players often swung at pitches outside the strike zone Thursday. The affliction is common for teams mired in a slump. The tendency to “do too much,” a dreaded phrase for hitters, creeps up as innings pass without offense, Roberts explained.
Roberts and several of his players saw little reason to draw conclusions from the first three series of the season. But one stubborn pattern from 2016 has carried into 2017: Four of the Dodgers’ five losses this season have come when they’ve faced a left-handed starting pitcher. The grumbling about the Dodgers’ futility against these foes will continue “until we prove otherwise,” Roberts said.
On Thursday, the team fell to a former member of their 2016 roster. Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu combined for 16 innings last season. Anderson blew out his back in spring training, developed a blister upon his return in August and injured himself fielding a bunt. Ryu stumbled in his rehabilitation from labrum surgery in 2015 and pitched only once.
Yet both men broke camp in 2017 as rotation members for championship contenders. Anderson took a $3.5-million deal with the Cubs and won the fifth spot during spring training. The Dodgers’ Ryu never wavered in his readiness for the start of the season, and exceeded the expectations of his employers.
After his debut last week, Ryu (0-2, 5.79 ERA) chastised himself for failing to complete five innings. He saw no need to celebrate his return from the abyss. Ryu had missed nearly two full seasons because of his torn labrum, but he still held himself to the standard he set in 2013 and 2014. He felt a similar frustration after allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings Thursday.
“As a starting pitcher, I feel like five innings is the minimum you need to pitch,” Ryu said. “And for two games straight, I wasn’t able to.”
Ryu reached 89 mph on his fastball with a 2-1 pitch to first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the first inning. The ball was headed toward the outer edge of the plate, but Rizzo still clobbered it. His solo homer gave the Cubs an early lead.
The Dodgers had less luck with their fly-ball placement. Seager will curse the name of Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. Almora leaped at the wall to bring down a drive by Seager in the first inning. Two innings later, Almora robbed Seager once more.
With a runner at second, Anderson tried to handcuff Seager with a curveball down the middle. Seager was not fooled. He unleashed a drive that forced Almora to sprint toward the bricks in center. Anderson crouched and waited. The ball landed in the heel of Almora’s glove. Anderson pumped his fists. Wrigley Field erupted.
“Every time you barrel up a ball, you’re hoping for the best,” Seager said. “It happens, though.”
Another eruption occurred in the bottom of the fourth, when shortstop Addison Russell launched a solo homer onto Waveland Avenue beyond the left-field bleachers. Down two runs, the Dodgers stoked their best opportunity in the top of the fifth, when Ryu led off with a walk, Seager singled to left and Justin Turner walked to load the bases with two outs.
Up came Yasiel Puig. He passed on a curveball at the knees, but chased a chest-high fastball. “That changed that sequence right there,” Roberts said, allowing Anderson to keep Puig off balance. Anderson sneaked a second strike on a fastball down the middle. Puig swung late at an inside fastball, managing only a harmless pop-up to first base.
“That was a big at-bat in the game,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers would not advance a runner to third base again. And the Cubs broke through for a pair of runs off Ryu in the bottom of the inning. The Chicago bullpen held the line after Anderson departed following the fifth.
Anderson “did not have his best stuff,” Roberts said. But still he kept the Dodgers off the board. After three games at Wrigley Field, the club did not exit the friendly confines boasting about a rematch in October. The group understood the work necessary to reach that stage again.
“It’s a long season,” Turner said. “A lot of stuff happens. We can’t worry about anyone else. We’ve got to make sure we take care of our business, and make sure we get there first.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes