Dodgers must find offense in NLDS against Padres pitchers

After a Game 2 win over the Dodgers to level the National League Division Series, San Diego Padres starter Yu Darvish praised his former team’s offense.

Darvish mentioned how the Dodgers extended their bats by fouling from court to court. He marveled at their reluctance not to swing on inclines they couldn’t ride.

He said in Japanese, “They played typical Dodgers baseball.”

Darvish diplomatically failed to mention another traditional element of Dodgers baseball that changed the series.

Their goons choked.

This is an October tradition that’s almost as well-established as Halloween, the Dodgers racing through the regular season only to find debris down their throats when the games really count.

The best-of-five NLDS is one game apiece after San Diego’s 5-3 win over the Dodgers, with the series moving to Petco Park for Game 3 on Friday night. Losing home field advantage isn’t their biggest concern.

The team with the highest points in baseball is suddenly unable to score. The team with the fifth-highest run differential in modern times can no longer withstand an inconspicuous Padres bullpen.

So much for these 111-win Dodgers being choking-proof.

Subtract the five runs they hit in the first 2 2/3 innings of Game 1 against Mike Clevinger, and their performance in that best-of-five NLDS would consist entirely of three solo homers in Game 2. They have struck 19 times already.

Sound familiar?

Freddie Freeman hits but Mookie Betts doesn’t.

Trea Turner broke out of his career low in October, but Justin Turner is gone.

The series is now at a dangerous stage for the Dodgers with Blake Snell scheduled to start in Game 3 and Joe Musgrove in Game 4 for the Padres on Saturday.

Snell has a 2.50 ERA in nine career starts against the Dodgers. That doesn’t apply to Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, a contest from which Snell was removed early to set the stage for a comeback win that propelled the Dodgers to their only championship under Andrew Friedman.

Musgrove recorded a modest 3.63 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers this season, but won in Game 3 of a wildcard series against the New York Mets in which he went seven innings scoreless.

What’s puzzling about the Dodgers’ offensive problems is that the team has managed to achieve one of their primary goals in each of the NLDS games, which is getting into opponents’ bullpens early.

Padres’ Game 1 starter Clevinger recorded just eight outs. Darvish, who started Game 2, couldn’t record a single out in the sixth inning.

“I don’t think it’s very important for them to be kept in check by the starting pitcher,” Darvish said. “It’s the same in the regular season. Their goal is to win, so they try to get the starter out of the game as quickly as possible and get their opponents to use a lot of relievers. They do that in the regular season and win by dealing damage over time. I think that’s the strongest part of the Dodgers.”

But the Dodgers are scoreless in 9 1/3 innings against the Padres’ bullpen. They hit just .125 against the Padres’ aides.

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman reacts after being flown out during the fifth inning.

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman reacts after flying out in the fifth inning in Game 2 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Manager Dave Roberts said of Game 2 in particular: “I thought there were a lot more good bats than bad bats, but I think we could have done better depending on the situation. We had a couple of opportunities to push a couple of runs and we didn’t take it.”

Case in point: the sixth inning Darvish left with runners in the corners and the Padres had a 4-3 lead.

Justin Turner hit Robert Suarez. Gavin Lux grounded in a double play.

The Dodgers also failed to break Suárez in the seventh inning when a one-out double by Betts gave them second and third. Trea Turner then landed in third place, Freeman was run on purpose to load the bases, after which Will Smith moved into midfield.

They had two men again in the eighth inning, this time on first and second, with Cody Bellinger on top. With Bellinger one for six in the series, Roberts predictably called for a pinch hitter. The unexpected was that he called out Austin Barnes, the easy batting backup catcher who batted .212 in the regular season. Barnes flew out.

When asked why he went with Barnes instead of Chris Taylor or Miguel Vargas, Roberts cited Barnes’ swing path as letting the manager like Barnes’ chances against left-hander Josh Hader. Never mind that Barnes was one-for-five against Hader earlier in his career.

The Dodgers batted only .229 against pitchers in that series except Clevinger, who only started Game 1 because the Padres’ top three starters were fielded in the wildcard series against the New York Mets.

“I think if you look at it as a three-game series now, I like where our offense is,” Roberts said. “I really do.”

Roberts pointed to opportunities his teams had created. He said he expects Betts (two for eight) and Justin Turner (one for six) to produce. He also said he didn’t think the burden of being the overwhelming favorite was on his side.

“I don’t think so,” Roberts said. “I think that’s been talked about all year, expectations and whatever it may be. All that stuff that people might have talked about before doesn’t affect the outcome of a Major League Baseball game.”

Several times that year, Roberts said this Dodgers team was special. If his players don’t find out anything over the next few days, they’ll be lumped in with many teams ahead of them. Dodgers must find offense in NLDS against Padres pitchers

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