ANAHEIM — The Dodgers came into Saturday’s game against the Angels having lost 14 of their last 18 games. That nightmare stretch saw their record dip from a Majors-best 13-2 to 17-16.
While there were some moments of frustration, the Dodgers continuously said there’s no panic inside the clubhouse, even despite the recent skid. Manager Dave Roberts has repeatedly pointed to the talent on the roster as to why they’ll eventually break out of it. Just on Friday, after a blowout loss to the Angels, catcher Will Smith assured everyone in his postgame Zoom call that the Dodgers’ hitters are “too good” to perform as poorly as they have over the last three weeks.
That confidence stems from the fact that this core of players won a World Series just seven months ago and are expected to compete for another title this season. The Dodgers’ offense backed up their words Saturday in a 14-11 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium, snapping a season-high four-game losing streak.
“On the offensive side, there were a lot of good things,” Roberts said. “Just team offense, which was really good tonight. Across the board, just some tough at-bats.”
During the recent skid, seemingly everything has gone wrong for the Dodgers. They’ve suffered plenty of injuries, they’ve made some bad defensive plays, and their offense hasn’t been clicking.
For five innings, the Dodgers looked like the same team that ran away with the best record in the Majors last season. Clayton Kershaw rebounded from the shortest outing of his career, a one-inning start against the Cubs on Tuesday. Kershaw was pitching on three days’ rest given he only threw 39 pitches in his last start. You would’ve never guessed it with the way the left-hander pitched on Saturday.
Kershaw struck out five and allowed two hits over five scoreless innings. It was the 84th scoreless start of Kershaw’s career, which is the sixth-most by a starter since 1920.
“Much needed, for sure,” Kershaw said. “Five innings is nothing to write home about, obviously. But the team thought that was best after coming off short rest or whatever. Any time you pitch five innings, you don’t feel like you’ve done your job, but in this situation, it seemed to make the most sense.”
With Kershaw dealing on the mound, the offense made sure to give their ace enough run support with a big eight-run inning. And perhaps even more encouraging for the Dodgers is the fact that their best player, Mookie Betts, led the way.
Over the last two seasons, Roberts has said the team’s offense goes as Betts goes. So far this season, Betts has not hit quite like he or the Dodgers would expect, which is a big reason the offense has yet to reach its full potential.
But on Saturday, Betts went, and so did the Dodgers. Betts got the fourth-inning rally started with a leadoff walk and added a two-run single later in the frame. Betts went 2-for-3 with four RBIs on Saturday and has gone 4-for-7 with a homer in two games against the Angels. In his last nine games, Betts is 12-for-37 (.324) with two homers and eight RBIs.
Max Muncy, Matt Beaty, Austin Barnes, Betts, Corey Seager and Smith all delivered RBI hits. The Dodgers then tacked on five more runs in the fifth. After going 3-for-36 with runners in scoring position during the four-game skid, the Dodgers went 11-for-23 in similar situations on Saturday.
“Just putting in a lot of work,” Betts said. “You go through a season, you have your ups and your downs. I’m just trying to jump on a wave and ride it.”
As good as the Dodgers were in those first five innings, they struggled just as much in the final four. After pulling Kershaw, the Dodgers’ bullpen nearly allowed the Angels to erase that 13-run lead. Dennis Santana, Mitch White and Garrett Cleavinger all struggled, allowing a combined 11 runs. A Jose Rojas three-run homer off Cleavinger capped off a seven-run seventh for the Angels, cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 14-11.
With Corey Knebel, David Price, Brusdar Graterol and Scott Alexander all on the IL, the Dodgers are thrusting a lot of inexperienced relievers into action. It hasn’t worked so far, a concern moving forward for the Dodgers.
“I wouldn’t say nervous,” Roberts said, when asked if he got nervous during the Angels’ comeback attempt. “But I just wasn’t pleased with the fact that you have to get leverage guys in the ballgame when you have a 13-run lead.”
It wasn’t as pretty as the Dodgers hoped, but given how the last three weeks have gone, they’ll gladly take the win.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Betts said. “We’ll take any win we can get.”