PHOENIX -- The Dodgers have the second-best record in the Majors and are still seen as one of the favorites to win another World Series title. They believe they have all the pieces in play to make another deep run in October.
But with how the Giants have played this season, it’s been an unexpected uphill climb for a Dodgers team that has been the chased, and not the chaser, in the National League West for nearly a decade.
On Saturday, the Dodgers’ chances of winning a ninth consecutive division title took a shocking hit after a disappointing 7-2 loss against the D-backs at Chase Field. It’s only the third time the Dodgers have lost to the D-backs this season, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
With the loss, the Dodgers fell two games behind the Giants, who beat the Rockies on Saturday, in the NL West race with seven games left in the regular season. The Giants’ magic number to clinch the division is suddenly down to six.
“Yeah, they all hurt,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “When you’re looking at seven games left in a season and trailing by two games … yeah, it hurts. What you have to do is win tomorrow. Things can still change, but we have to win the games we’re supposed to win.”
San Francisco's win clinched the top seed in the NL Division Series, should they win the division. It also ensured that the NL West champion will have home-field advantage in NLDS "A" vs. the winner of the Wild Card Game. The NL West runner-up will host the Wild Card Game vs. the second Wild Card team, with the winner advancing to series "A."
The Dodgers were flat in all aspects of the game on Saturday. Starter Clayton Kershaw competed, but it was evident from the jump that he didn’t have his best stuff. The first pitch the left-hander threw on Saturday was a 90 mph fastball that was blasted for a leadoff homer by Ketel Marte.
In the second inning, Carson Kelly led off with a homer of his own, this time on a Kershaw slider. Arizona would later tack on runs in the fourth and fifth, extending their lead to 4-0. After giving up an RBI single to Daulton Varsho, Kershaw was taken out from the game after just 4 1/3 innings.
“Just a couple bad pitches early,” Kershaw said. “You know, you miss your spots sometimes, hopefully they just keep it in the ballpark, but it didn’t happen tonight. I put us in a hole early and couldn’t get out of the fifth there. There were a few good throws in there, but obviously, overall, it wasn’t great.”
While Kershaw wasn’t as sharp as usual during his outing, the likely future Hall of Famer didn’t get much help from his defense, either.
On Friday, the Dodgers’ outfield defense shined, helping Los Angeles win a game it absolutely had to. On Saturday, the Dodgers’ infield defense contributed to a loss Los Angeles couldn’t afford. Corey Seager and Justin Turner each committed an error on Saturday. Turner’s errant throw helped the D-backs add another run instead of ending the fourth inning.
While the defense wasn’t sharp, the Dodgers’ offense played just as big of a role in the defeat. D-backs starter Zac Gallen recorded six strikeouts through two innings, finishing with eight punchouts through six one-run innings. Trea Turner was the only Dodger that got to Gallen, launching a solo homer in the sixth. Turner completed his first multihomer game as a Dodger, blasting another solo homer in the ninth.
“Gallen was really good,” Turner said. “He came out throwing the ball really well, had multiple pitches and kind of gave a different look than he did in the past. We had to adjust and he did a good job of keeping us off-balance. It’s just one of those days.”
It might’ve been one of those days for the Dodgers, but it came at a bad time against a team that celebrated their 50th win of the season on Sept. 25. The Dodgers have done a lot of things extremely well throughout the first 155 games of the regular season. Almost none of the qualities that have made L.A. a 99-win team were on display on Saturday.
Now, they’ll have to play near-perfect baseball, or the reality that their season will ultimately come down to a one-game Wild Card will begin to sink in.
“Obviously we’re watching what they do, we’re definitely looking at the scoreboard and things like that, but you can’t control that,” Kershaw said. “So we’re not super worried about what they’re doing, we’re just trying to win games. It’s hard to do both. It’s hard to focus on your game and hope that they lose and things like that. Just try and win tomorrow.”