Tables turned on Dodgers by SD defense

April 23rd, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- In the first meeting between the Dodgers and Padres, it was Mookie Betts who made one of the best defensive plays of the early season, helping Los Angeles come away with a win over San Diego last Saturday.

On Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers were on the other side of one of the best defensive plays of the season, as they dropped the series opener to the Padres, 3-2. The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak at home, including last year’s NL Wild Card Series against the Brewers.

“We’re pretty evenly matched. It’s going to be fun,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I don’t know how many more times we get these guys, but every one of these games could’ve gone either way, so it’s going to be fun these next three games.”

Like Roberts said, each of the first four games between the two clubs have come down to which team is able to make key plays in the late innings of the ballgame. The Dodgers won the first two rounds. The Padres have answered with two wins of their own. Jake Cronenworth had a key part of that on Thursday.

The Dodgers, who were trailing 3-2 in the eighth, had the bases loaded with just one out. Sheldon Neuse, who hit his first career homer in the seventh inning, hit a sharp one-hopper to second base. Cronenworth was able to react quickly, knocking the ball down, picking it up and flip to shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for the second out. Tatis then threw a laser to first to get Neuse, ending the Dodgers’ threat.

“It was a rollercoaster inning. I thought we put ourselves in a position to at least tie the game, potentially get ahead,” Roberts said. “It took a great play by Cronenworth to recover on that ball and make a nice feed. I just don’t know many shortstops that can make that turn with the arm strength. It was a heck of a play by them to end that inning.”

But while Cronenworth and Tatis made the play of the game, another slow start by the Dodgers’ offense played a big role in the loss. For the first six innings, Padres rookie left-hander Ryan Weathers took care of the Dodgers’ lineup, allowing just one hit -- and that was to starting pitcher .

The Dodgers were held to seven hits in the two-game series against the Mariners. They were able to record six hits with a late push on Thursday, but Los Angeles has scored just 10 runs in its last five games, leading to a 2-3 record. Before AJ Pollock and Neuse hit back-to-back homers in the seventh, the last Dodgers position player to record a hit was Corey Seager. And that came in the third inning of Tuesday’s win against Seattle.

Those offensive struggles have particularly been noticeable against left-handed pitching. Weathers retired the last 11 batters he faced, and Tim Hill was able to get out of trouble in the eighth. The Dodgers are now hitting just .204 against southpaws this season.

Roberts, however, was encouraged by what he saw from his offense down the stretch on Thursday. The Dodgers recorded five hits in the last three frames. The problem was that it only resulted in two runs.

“I thought the second half of the game we did a really nice job,” Roberts said, when asked about his offense. “On the offensive side, I’m not too concerned.”

The reason Roberts isn’t concerned about his offense is because of the star power it possesses. However, the Dodgers have not been immune to the injury bug despite starting the season with a league-best 14-5 record. They got Mookie Betts back in the lineup on Thursday, but they are still without Cody Bellinger and Gavin Lux. Zach McKinstry and Chris Taylor are also battling nagging injuries, as both were late scratches on Thursday with lower back stiffness.

Things don’t get any easier for a Dodgers offense looking for answers, as they get Yu Darvish on Friday and Blake Snell on Saturday.

“We’ve got a lot of good offensive players that have track records to back it up. We’ll be fine,” Roberts said. “There are parts of a season where there’s a lull offensively, that happens. Those pitchers are pretty good, too. I’m OK with our offense.”

All four games against the Padres have been decided in the eighth inning or later. The games haven’t disappointed.

“We’re both really talented teams that know how to play good baseball, and you have to assume there are going to be a few nail-biters in there,” Buehler said. “We’ll come back and try and play good baseball tomorrow.”