LOS ANGELES ― Not long ago, you could hold up Chris Taylor’s season at just the right angle and see the Most Valuable Player of the Dodgers, if not the entire National League.
Much can change in little more than a month. Since Aug. 2, Taylor’s on-base plus slugging percentage has fallen nearly 100 points. He has routinely hit sixth or seventh in the batting order. As the bottom of the Dodgers’ lineup fell on hard times, Taylor’s bat was more often part of the problem than the solution.
Friday, Taylor’s glove did plenty.
Taylor prevented Manny Machado from hitting a two-run home run with a leaping catch in center field in the fifth inning. In the fourth inning, Taylor dove to catch a Wil Myers fly ball in the left-center field gap. In the bottom of the fourth, Taylor drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, completing the scoring in a 3-0 win over the San Diego Padres before an announced crowd of 48,403 at Dodger Stadium.
A two-run home run by Max Muncy got the Dodgers on the board in the third inning against Joe Musgrove (10-9). Taylor’s best efforts helped Julio Urías (17-3), Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen preserve the Dodgers’ 16th shutout of the season.
The win allowed the Dodgers (89-53) to snap a two-game losing streak and keep pace with the first-place San Francisco Giants (91-50), who have won five games in a row to extend their lead in the National League West to 2½ games.
The Padres (74-66) have become a specter in the playoff picture. They have lost four consecutive games to the Dodgers, all since the All-Star break, after winning the previous four head-to-head contests.
Urías became the first pitcher to win 17 games by limiting San Diego to three hits in seven innings. He hit two batters and issued one walk while striking out seven. His ERA fell to 2.98.
This time, he needed help. Urías hadn’t thrown a curveball to Machado until the fifth inning, when he left one over the plate in a 1-and-0 count with a runner on first base.
“I think (Machado) was sitting on that pitch all night,” Urías said through an interpreter. “I think he was working me to make that pitch. When he hit it, I thought it was going to go over the fence. It was a great play by Chris.”
On his 94th pitch of the evening, Urías got pinch hitter Tommy Pham to fly out to center field to end the seventh inning. It was the deepest Urías had pitched into a game since July 21.
“He’s a front-line starter, and when he takes the baseball we expect to win,” Roberts said of Urías. “For him to go deep tonight shows his maturity.”
Treinen allowed a pair of two-out singles, by Fernando Tatís Jr. and Ha-Seong Kim, before striking out Wil Myers to end the eighth inning. Jansen’s save was his 10th in a row and his 31st overall, tied for second in the NL.
Kim replaced Jake Cronenworth, who left the game after being hit on the hand by an 88-mph changeup from Urías in the third inning. Manager Jayce Tingler told reporters after the game that Cronenworth suffered a small fracture on his ring finger.
The Dodgers collected only four hits to the Padres’ six. They made each hit count. Mookie Betts singled off Musgrove just before Muncy pummeled a 91-mph cutter at the belt 428 feet to right field. The home run was Muncy’s 32nd of the season, tied for third in the National League.
In the fourth inning, Will Smith doubled and went to third base on a wild pitch by Musgrove. Taylor’s high-arcing fly ball to left field was deep enough for Smith to tag up and score with relative ease.
Taylor’s 72 RBIs this season trail only Muncy and Justin Turner among the team leaders. Friday, his value to the Dodgers shone brightest on defense.
Gavin Lux got his first career start in left field and caught the only ball hit in his immediate vicinity early on. Then in the fourth inning, Myers’ fly ball into the gap posed a bit of trouble.
Lux and Taylor began to converge in pursuit of the sinking baseball. Taylor hit the brakes, thinking to avoid a last-second collision, only to look up and see Lux peeling away. Taylor had to dive at the last second and make a snow-cone catch. Roberts called the snafu a “little communication thing” on Lux’s part.
“CT made the play,” Roberts said.
Roberts revealed that Taylor has been battling a neck ailment recently – a built-in excuse for his struggles at the plate that the veteran has declined to mention to the media.
It’s been four years since the Dodgers converted Taylor, a middle infielder by trade, into a capable defender at most positions on the field. That followed the winter of 2016-17, during which Taylor worked with current Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc to reshape his swing.
Now Lux is in position to follow a similar career path – a better route than his convergent path that turned a simple fly ball into an unwitting highlight Friday.
Chris Taylor: centerfielder. pic.twitter.com/3JLE2kiAXb
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) September 11, 2021
No doubt from Max Muncy. pic.twitter.com/5cvqI7YjOh
— MLB (@MLB) September 11, 2021
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) September 11, 2021