As Sho goes, so goes LA? Key K's in focus after loss

Betts, Ohtani, Freeman K vs. Rangers' Robertson in big spot for second straight night

June 14th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- After a series win against the Yankees over the weekend and a 15-run outburst to open a six-game homestand against the Rangers, it appeared the Dodgers were on the verge of breaking out offensively for a sustained stretch.

Instead, the offense has gone missing over the last two games against the Rangers, wasting quality opportunities in a 3-1 loss to Texas on Thursday at Dodger Stadium.

"Tonight, I thought we put the ball in play,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “[Rangers starter Michael Lorenzen] doesn’t strike guys out. I thought we hit some balls hard. Couldn’t threaten."

While Lorenzen only struck out two, the Dodgers didn’t have many answers for the right-hander outside of an Andy Pages solo homer in the seventh inning. The Dodgers had 11 batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher, but in the end, Lorenzen allowed just one run over seven innings. For the Dodgers’ offense, it was the second consecutive night without finding a way to put up big numbers against the Rangers’ starter.

"He was able to mix his pitches really well throughout his outing,” said Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani through interpreter Will Ireton. “We’ve been able to actually hit the ball hard. It could’ve been a matter of a couple inches here and there."

The Dodgers walked away Thursday with a lot of what-ifs in big opportunities, none bigger than in the eighth inning against David Robertson. Finally into the Texas bullpen, Cavan Biggio led off the inning getting on base via a hit-by-pitch. Austin Barnes followed with a single into right field, advancing Biggio to third and setting things up for a potential game-changing rally.

Even down two, the Dodgers found themselves right back in it with runners at the corners with no outs. They had the top of the order coming up. Certainly one of the three former Most Valuable Players atop their lineup would come through with at least one run.

That wasn’t the case, however, as for the second straight night, Robertson was able to strike out Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Ohtani swinging. In Betts’ and Ohtani’s cases, they both went down on three pitches, with Ohtani swinging at a pitch way out of the zone to end his at-bat.

“I’ve got to go back and look at them,” Roberts said of the pivotal strikeouts. “I thought Ohtani expanded the zone at the top, below. I thought Freddie competed, had a good at-bat. [Robertson] made a good pitch. I thought Mookie, the best pitch he had was that first-pitch curveball. … Started an inning, had some stress. Unfortunately we couldn’t push anything across.”

As good as the Dodgers' bats have been this season, ranking at the top in just about every offensive category, they have struggled at times with runners in scoring position. On Thursday, Los Angeles went 0-for-5 in such situations and left six men on base.

Those struggles ring particularly true for Ohtani, who has yet to find consistency with runners in scoring position. The superstar came into Thursday’s game with a .235 average and .631 OPS (16-for-68) and only one homer with runners in scoring position.

Per, Ohtani has also struggled in “high-leverage” situations, which factor in certain moments in the game that would mostly affect the win probability. In high-leverage situations, Ohtani was 10-for-45 (.222) with one long ball coming into Thursday’s game. The eighth inning at-bat against Robertson, obviously, qualifies as a high-leverage at-bat.

In medium-leverage at-bats, Ohtani has fared better, with five homers in 107 plate appearances and a .341 average (31-for-91). And he's done most of his damage in low-leverage spots, mashing 11 homers and collecting 19 RBIs in 144 plate appearances.

While the weight of an entire offense doesn't fall solely on Ohtani's shoulders, the Dodgers are going to need their three superstars at the top of the order to come through in those situations, especially in October.

It didn’t work out for them on Thursday.

"There’s always going to be stretches of ups and down as a team and personally,” Ohtani said. “Obviously when things aren’t going well, that’s when we put everything under a microscope. My approach has been the same, just being able to put up quality at-bats."