It ended with an 8-7 loss to the Braves, which thrust the Dodgers into a 2-0 hole in this best-of-seven series.
Along the way, around every corner of Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, it became increasingly clear that Los Angeles has a pitching problem.
Kershaw is working his way back to the mound, hoping to return in time for Thursday’s Game 4. His replacement, rookie Tony Gonsolin, could not escape the fifth inning, allowing five runs to the Braves. Game 1 starter Walker Buehler is dealing with multiple blisters on his pitching fingers, and will likely do so for as long as October lasts. Game 3 starter Julio Urías hasn’t thrown more than 68 pitches in a start this month. Presumptive Game 5 starter Dustin May was needed Monday for five outs of relief.
On top of all that, the Dodgers’ margin for error has wilted. It has been 16 years since a Major League team came back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
“Nothing’s going to be given to us, obviously,” said shortstop Corey Seager, who drove in four runs and made an impressive over-the-shoulder catch.
Nothing was given to the Dodgers in Game 2, which saw Gonsolin -- who learned of his possible start over the weekend -- retire the first nine batters he faced, four via strikeout. But a leadoff walk in the fourth inning led to a two-run Freddie Freeman homer, and that’s when the mistakes started piling up. In an attempt to make his slider and splitter “overly nasty,” Gonsolin began missing the strike zone a bit too frequently, issuing a pair of one-out walks and an RBI double in the fifth.
And so Roberts was forced to go to his bullpen early for the second night in a row, in a game he had once hoped would belong largely to Kershaw.
“I really wanted Tony to get through that fifth inning, but we just ran into some trouble,” Roberts said. “I just felt that he didn’t have anything left in the tank.”
The problem the Dodgers now face is twofold. One, they don’t know for sure when Kershaw will be able to pitch (they’re hoping for Thursday), or how deep Urías can go (they’d like as many as six innings and 90 pitches), or whether May will start Game 5 (they don’t have many other great options). The team is discussing all of that on the fly.
Two, the Dodgers can ill afford another slip. So if Game 3 hangs in the balance in the middle innings, will Roberts stick with Urías knowing his team needs four victories to advance? Or will he turn to his high-leverage relievers early, understanding a 3-0 deficit would be near-impossible to erase? Los Angeles is already facing an uncertain situation in the late innings -- with Brusdar Graterol possibly supplanting Kenley Jansen as closer -- and any middle-innings shakeup could have a ripple effect on that.
“You’re playing seven days in a row, and so you have to try to give your starters some leash, and we knew that going in,” Roberts said, explaining why he considered it so important for Gonsolin to finish the fifth inning of Game 2. “You just can’t play every game, regardless of score, like it’s life or death in a seven-game series.”
Roberts did at least avoid Graterol, Blake Treinen and Victor González on Tuesday, ensuring that those three should be fresh behind Urías in Game 3. But the real fulcrum of this series is the rotation. The Dodgers, as Seager mentioned, have “done it all year,” largely on the strength of their NL-best starting pitching. That group may not be in peak condition right now, but the names on the back of the jerseys haven’t changed.
Nor is the blueprint for Los Angeles to reach the World Series any different. Despite their rotation issues, the Dodgers could still have an edge over the Braves there going forward, considering Atlanta doesn’t have much rotation experience -- Huascar Ynoa? Bryse Wilson? -- behind Game 3 starter Kyle Wright.
“They still have to beat us a couple more times,” Roberts said. “So our only focus is on tomorrow right now and how we can find a way to win a baseball game.”