Dodgers Wake Up From August Dream to Face September Nightmare
The team that went 24-5 in August has now lost three of four to start the season's final month, and that's not the worst of it.
The Dodgers’ starting rotation revealed what it was back in July when it posted a 6.18 ERA—the highest earned run average in a calendar month for the team’s starting pitchers since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
The front office attempted to staunch the bleeding by trading for Lance Lynn at the deadline, who led all qualified starters in MLB with the highest ERA in the sport, at 6.47. Andrew Friedman and company also attempted to shore up the club around the margins by adding veterans Kiké Hernandez, Amed Rosario, and Ryan Yarbrough—all cheap additions to provide depth in a trade deadline where few impact arms and no big bats were available.
These moves looked genius in August, as Rosario and Hernandez hit immediately, and Lynn and Yarbrough pitched much better than they had this season with the White Sox and Royals, respectively.
The Dodgers then rode the hottest months of both Mookie Betts’ and Freddie Freeman’s veteran careers to a 24-5 record. Betts was so good he broke the franchise record for hits in a calendar month with 51 and runs scored with 35. He became just the third player since 1900 to post a .450 batting average with at least 50 hits and 10 home runs in a month (joining Babe Ruth, July 1923 and July 1924) and Lou Gehrig (June 1930).
Everything that could have gone right for the Dodgers in August did.
Betts, unsurprisingly won Player of the Month, and catapulted past Ronald Acuña Jr. as the frontrunner in the MVP race.
Freeman broke the LA Dodgers’ record for doubles in a season with 51. (With more than a month left to play to catch Todd Helton’s modern record of 59).
Centerfielder James Outman—who played so poorly in May and June he almost got demoted— rebounded to win Rookie of the Month.
Lynn went 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings.
Clayton Kershaw—who they desperately need if they want to win any playoff series in October— returned from a six-week stint on the injured list with an aching shoulder to make two solid starts.
The Dodgers surged to within striking distance of the Atlanta Braves for the best record in baseball, and looked as if they could at least scare the crap out of them in October.
Then, as Taylor Swift foretold, August slipped away into a moment of time, and everything went to s—t.
The Braves arrived at Dodger Stadium as the calendar turned to September, and the rest of the baseball world watched as the game’s two top teams squared off for what was supposed to be an epic four-game battle between the MLB’s hottest club, and the team I’ve been telling you since March will win the World Series this October.
The series looked like it would be a barnburner, too, when the Braves took an 7-1 lead on the Dodgers with ace and Cy Young frontrunner Spencer Strider on the hill last Thursday and the Dodgers came roaring back behind two Betts’ homers, only to lose 8-7 with two runners on in the 9th.
“OK,” I thought. “There are no moral victories in this sport BUT the Dodgers did come back from a six run deficit against the best pitcher and the best team in baseball and almost stole a win. Lance Lynn may have gotten shelled, but he’s not gonna line up against Strider in October so this actually boded well for the Dodgers going forward in the series.”
Um, err, oops?
Julío Urías took the mound for the Dodgers on Friday in what should be his last start* ever for the franchise (more on this later) and got knocked around by the game’s best offense to the tune of 5 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in just five innings. The Dodgers scored three late runs to turn a 6-0 hole into a 6-3 deficit, but it was never that close.
Young Emmett Sheehan pitched better than both Lynn and Urías combined in the third game of the series, mixing in his changeup at a much higher clip than he had in any previous MLB outing and thoroughly confusing Braves hitters who must have thought they read the wrong scouting report. Sheehan made it through four admirable innings of one-run ball, that lone run coming when Acuña Jr. hit a homer that is now orbiting Mars. The Dodgers’ bullpen held the Braves scoreless through regulation.
The problem was the team’s offense was only able to scratch one run across against Bryce Elder, and the Braves mighty hitters finally broke through in the 10th when Orlando Arcia corked a monster three-run homer off Alex Vesia to seal the series victory.
The Dodgers took the fourth game of the series on Sunday when Bobby Miller tossed seven dazzling innings, and the club’s offense did just enough against the Braves fourth starter, Charlie Morton, to win 3-1. But if the Dodgers were supposed to prove they could hang with the Braves over the first weekend of September, they failed in that regard. The Braves lineup looked two or three batters deeper, and their rotation looked two or three starters better.
A lot can happen in a month, and the Braves and Dodgers remain on a collision course for the NLCS (assuming they both take care of business in the first round, which the Dodgers did not do last year). Los Angeles has a lot of work to do to have a chance. It’s not fair to ask Betts and Freeman to replicate their Augusts this October when they are facing the sports best pitchers, but, given the Dodgers’ pitching problems that’s probably what they are going to have to do.
After watching what Miller did to the mighty Braves, you can now write his name into the Dodgers playoff rotation in ink. But what about the other slots?
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