ST. LOUIS — Well, that didn’t work.
Frustrated by the underachieving offense, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made some changes to the lineup Thursday afternoon. Mookie Betts moved back to leadoff, swapping places with Trea Turner. Corey Seager and Will Smith – two players not complicit in the offensive struggles – got the day off along with slumping Chris Taylor.
That left Cody Bellinger and his impossibly bad OPS-plus of 44 (100 is average) batting fifth and only one batter with an average over .195 (.220-hitting Austin Barnes) in the fifth through ninth spots.
The results were painfully predictable for the Dodgers. The fifth through ninth spots in the order went 0 for 17 and the Dodgers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-1, at Busch Stadium. The Dodgers had just four hits in the game, all from the first three spots in their lineup and none after the fifth inning.
“Guys are going to have to have days off. That’s just the nature of this game,” Roberts said. “And we’ve run other guys out there and had the same results. That’s the great thing about this game, that it’s not predictable – as much as you can say it was and look back and say that it was. We know that our offense has struggled with different guys at the bottom than today.”
Giving Smith (a 1.057 OPS and eight home runs in his past 20 games) the day game off after a night game Wednesday was standard. But resting Seager (a .900 OPS in his past 20 starts) on the same day set off a chain reaction of moves that led to an outfield of Bellinger (a .524 OPS), Steven Souza Jr. (a .161 average in limited big-league time) and Billy McKinney (a .192 average).
“I just don’t see Corey Seager playing 13 in a row,” Roberts said to that criticism. “The bottom line is we’ve got to keep him healthy. To put him in harm’s way to get hurt, that doesn’t do us any good either.”
After winning the first two games in St. Louis, the Dodgers left with a split of the four-game series on the heels of a series loss in San Francisco.
The Dodgers left Los Angeles a week ago tied with the Giants atop the NL West, confident they were surging. They return having gone 3-4 on the seven-game trip and fallen 2½ games back in the division with 21 games left to play in the regular season.
“Looking at where we’re at, very disappointing,” Roberts said of the trip. “But the only thing we can do now is turn the page and get ready for the Padres. That’s the only alternative.”
The lineup construction Thursday made it clear the Dodgers were going to have to do their damage in the top four spots. In the third inning, the first four hitters each reached base – Betts walked, Max Muncy doubled, Trea Turner singled in Betts, and Justin Turner walked. That produced the Dodgers’ only run of the day.
But they had just two other hits in the game – a first-inning, two-out double by Trea Turner and a single by Betts in the fifth. The only baserunner from the bottom five spots in the order came in the seventh inning when Albert Pujols drew a walk as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher – after getting an extended standing ovation in what could be his last plate appearance in St. Louis.
During the series against the Cardinals, the Dodgers’ final 19 batters were retired in order Monday, Adam Wainwright retired 22 of 23 Dodgers at one point Wednesday, and 14 of the final 15 Dodgers were retired Thursday with just one hit after the third inning.
In their past 20 games – during which they have gone 13-7 – the Dodgers have hit .202 as a team and averaged 3.75 runs per game.
“For me, you either get the job done or you don’t. Today we obviously didn’t do that,” Trea Turner said. “We didn’t do enough offensively to get the win. So I would say – not good enough.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good players and it’s frustrating when you don’t produce or do what you’re capable of. And I feel like we’re capable of a lot, obviously seeing the amount of talent and I guess just the experience over here. I think we’re capable of a lot and we can play a lot better offensively going forward. It’s just a matter of just relaxing. I think we’re trying a little too hard sometimes.”
Meanwhile, another parade of Dodgers pitchers turned in its usual stout effort. Six pitchers held the Cardinals to just five hits.
In his first start since returning from the injured list, Tony Gonsolin gave up a run in his three innings, showing better fastball velocity (94.6 mph) than he had before going to the IL with his shoulder problem and getting 11 swings-and-misses.
“It felt great,” Gonsolin said. “I tried not to look at the gun too much. I definitely did after that first pitch. I kind of wanted to see where I was at. Then as I got more comfortable, I felt like it was coming out a lot better. But it was definitely nice to see a 96. Yes, the velo’s there and I felt a lot more comfortable on the mound.”
The difference in the game was a solo home run by Tyler O’Neill in the fifth inning off Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The 362-foot drive cleared the left-field wall with no room to spare.