The time for treading water in the National League West has come and gone for the Dodgers. They did manage a winning interleague homestand, taking 3 of 5 last week from the Astros and Angels – but it’s difficult in retrospect to argue that such a record was the result the Dodgers wanted or needed. The Dodgers are bound to lose baseball games along the way – in a sport as random as baseball, such results are inevitable – but specifically how they lose those games can speak volumes about a team’s preparation and mental wherewithal as the dog days of summer persist.
For the Dodgers, it’s been the little things that have undone them. They’ve continued to struggle in close games at an alarming rate, falling to now 1-12 in extra innings and 13-20 in games decided by one run. It’s easy to look at results like these and chalk them up to luck, and there’s certainly an element of that to be acknowledged – in reality, though, they’re a team failing to control the things they ought to on a nightly basis.
On Friday night alone, Phil Bickford forgot how many outs there were, Cody Bellinger didn’t know the count while in the batter’s box, and three different times it was visually obvious that a Dodger pitcher and catcher combination weren’t on the same page with regards to which pitch was being thrown.
For the most part, these weren’t situations that directly affected the game’s outcome – in Cody Bellinger’s at-bat mentioned above, he ended up singling to right field – but they absolutely exhibit a lack of focus and preparation that bleeds into other areas. When a pitcher and catcher are getting crossed up on signs, you’re welcoming the potential for pitches to reach the backstop, or, worse, injuring your catchers. Mistakes on the baseball field are understandable, but many of those the Dodgers have been making on a routine basis recently are the likes of which a team ought to have sorted out in Spring Training. They’re mistakes that stem from a lack of attention to detail, a lack of communication between players, and a general carelessness that leads directly to a poor record in one-run games.
The Dodgers are capable of winning 90 games over a 162-game season on talent alone. Their MLB-best run differential speaks volumes about the team’s ability to blow out an opponent any given night that a few of their many stars play well at once. Those nights won’t carry a team through a postseason, though, and may not carry the Dodgers past the Wild Card game if they don’t figure it out in a hurry.
The Dodgers have had 3 off days over the past 8 days, so fatigue ought not to be a factor as they head to the east coast for a 6-game road trip in Philadelphia and Queens. They’re games the Dodgers will need to perform well in, as the Giants play host to Arizona and Colorado all week (while the Padres host Miami and play a weekend series at Arizona). The first stop on the Dodgers’ trip is a massive challenge itself, as Philadelphia enters the series having won 8 games in a row and riding high as the new first place team in the NL East.
Tuesday, August 10
4:05 pm PT
Max Scherzer (9-4, 2.75) vs Aaron Nola (7-6, 4.49 ERA)
The series begins Tuesday evening with a battle of longtime National League East aces. Aaron Nola has been atop the Phillies’ rotation for almost five seasons now, a career 65-46 with a 3.60 ERA. He’s a pitcher who rarely beats himself, posting a 90th percentile walk rate that forces hitters’ to barrel him up in order to beat him. He’s been a much better pitcher at home for Philadelphia this season despite the ballpark’s reputation as a launch pad for hitters, going 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA at Citizen’s Bank Park. He’s also never lost to the Dodgers, although the last Dodgers lineup he faced in 2019 only shares two hitters in common with the one he’ll likely face tonight (Bellinger, Muncy). Trea Turner represents the only batter in the Dodger’s projected lineup he’s faced more than 10 times, who he’s limited to a .184 batting average (7-for-38).
Max Scherzer will take the mound for Los Angeles against a very familiar opponent, having pitched against the Phillies 24 times in his career. He’s been quite successful against them, going 14-4 with a 2.55 ERA (and 8-1 with a 2.33 ERA at Citizen’s Bank Park). He’s already faced Philadelphia three times this season, including making his final start in a Nationals’ uniform against them on July 29, defeating the Phillies with 6 strong innings and allowing only 1 run.
There’s a solid chance that Scherzer-Nola yields another tight game into the late innings on Tuesday night, something the Dodgers hope they’re well prepared for. The bullpen is plenty rested, and gets a key cog back with Corey Knebel’s return from an extended absence. At the end of the night, it comes down to situational execution, focus, and preparation – if they haven’t found a way to be better in these areas, it may be another heartbreaking night.
Wednesday, August 11
4:05 pm PT
David Price (4-1, 3.53 ERA) vs Kyle Gibson (8-3, 2.79 ERA)
After the Dodgers turn to their big deadline acquisition on the mound Tuesday night, Philadelphia will follow suit on Wednesday when they turn to veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson. Gibson was having a career season for the Texas Rangers before being traded to the Phillies (alongside teammate Ian Kennedy), and has gone 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA since being dealt.
He’s a very different pitcher to prepare for than Aaron Nola, succeeding despite a well-below average walk and strikeout rates and a Baseball Savant page that resembles a league-average pitcher. His DRA- (Deserved Run Average, which according to Baseball Prospectus “Analyzes pitcher contributions, not just pitcher results”) paints a similar picture, scoring his season at 103 (100 being average, and lower being better). If the advanced statistics are telling the story as accurately as they often are, there’s plenty of reason to expect regression in Gibson’s future. The Dodgers have posted a wRC+ on the season of 113 against right-handed pitching, 3rd-best in baseball – so if any team is ready to expose Kyle Gibson, it’s the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
David Price will make another start for Los Angeles on Wednesday, fresh off what I’d argue was his best start since joining the Dodgers last Friday against the Angels. He pitched into the 6th inning for only the second time this season, allowing two solo home runs but almost nothing else. Price has quietly been a very reliable arm for the Dodgers when he’s been out there, posting a 3.20 ERA over 25.1 innings since July 4. He’ll face another tough matchup against a red-hot Philly lineup that hits lefties well, especially at home (106 wRC+).
Given Scherzer’s track record against Philadelphia, the hope is that Price will have plenty of bullpen arms ready to back him up on Wednesday night. If the Dodgers are able to humble Kyle Gibson as I suspect they might, there’s no reason they can’t enter the late innings with a lead to protect.
Thursday, August 12
10:05 am PT
TBD vs TBD
We don’t yet know who will pitch Thursday for either side. If each team follows the rotation they have been, one would imagine it would be Julio Urias taking the bump once again for Los Angeles against recently-converted reliever Ranger Suarez and a potential bullpen day behind him for the Phillies. Urias battled through a shaky start Saturday, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks over 5 laborious innings against the Angels. The Phillies represent a similar challenge in their ability to hit lefties well, but Julio will look to build on his phenomenal numbers away from Dodger Stadium, where he’s 10-2 with a 3.07 ERA this season.
Suarez has been absolutely phenomenal for the Phillies this season, posting a 0.98 ERA mostly in relief. He walked three over 2.2 innings in his last outing Saturday against the Mets – if the Dodgers want to sink their teeth into the Philadelphia bullpen early Thursday, a patient approach is probably the best plan of attack.
Any series against another playoff contender is a litmus test of sorts for the Dodgers, but this trip to the east coast is essential given the Giants’ soft schedule this week especially. If they’re not careful, a bad week can quickly find the Dodgers barely within reach of the divisional race while San Francisco feasts on the bottom of the league. It’s time to get to work.