Unlikely bottom-of-the-order heroes pave way for Freddie's game-winner

June 15th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- The last two nights, the eighth inning was a nightmare for the Dodgers’ three superstars atop the lineup.

With the game on the line in both, Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and struck out, both times against Rangers right-hander David Robertson. In the eighth inning on Friday, two of the Dodgers’ superstars were able to flip the script.

Freeman once again delivered in the clutch, lining a two-out RBI off left-hander Will Smith to lead the Dodgers to a much-needed 4-3 comeback win over the Royals at Dodger Stadium.

“Freddie obviously has familiarity with Will Smith over there,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Freddie knows how to get a hit. Coming through in that spot, I know it was a big weight off his shoulders and a big hit. … We got gifted right there that errant throw [that allowed Betts to advance to second]. It was good for us to take advantage of something.”

Seeing one of their stars come through in a big spot is something the Dodgers will need down the stretch of the season. But for them to be really dangerous offensively, they’re going to need the rest of the lineup to also deliver some big hits.

That’s exactly what happened on Friday as and served as unlikely power heroes.

After being held quiet the last two nights, the Dodgers’ offense struggled to get much going early against Royals starter Cole Ragans. The Dodgers didn’t have a baserunner until Ohtani singled with one out in the fourth.

In the fifth, however, Rojas got things going with a two-run homer off Ragans. Two batters later, Taylor tied it up at 3 with his first homer of the season and first since Sept. 7, 2023, a span of 56 games and 165 plate appearances.

“I try to just take it day by day,” Taylor said. “I definitely have my moments of frustration. Just trying to embrace the process and just that my work is going to eventually come through for me. I know what I’m capable of. Just not losing sight of that and continuing to grind through.”

The opportunities haven’t been coming for Taylor, who came into Friday’s game with a .100 batting average and just nine hits. But even through those struggles, the Dodgers have stayed consistent with their messaging that they believe Taylor can still be an impactful player.

In Rojas’ case, the veteran has taken advantage of the opportunities he gets. With Betts as the everyday shortstop, Rojas plays a few times a week, with Friday being his 40th game of the season. But in those turns, Rojas now has three homers, just two shy of what he had last season in 124 games.

“This is a complete team,” Rojas said. “I know things haven’t gone according to plan. Originally, we lost a guy in [Max] Muncy, who gives this team a lot of depth. But at the end of the day, I have all the faith in the world the guys that we have in this clubhouse are more than capable to give us the opportunity to pick up the big three or the big four at the top, any time that they’re down.”

Another way to pick up a sluggish offense is with good starting pitching. Gavin Stone has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Dodgers this season and he continued his strong rookie campaign, allowing three runs over seven innings of work. His only mistake was a hanging slider to Salvador Perez in the fourth inning, but Stone was able to bounce back from that, giving the Dodgers a complete team win when they needed it most.

“In one moment you’re thinking you might get no-hit and the next thing you know, you’re back in the ballgame,” Roberts said. “But I can’t say enough -- and it’s sort of redundant -- what Gavin Stone does. Coming off that big outing in New York against the Yankees and coming back here and not having a letdown, going seven innings.”