LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers are aware their real tests beckon after the All-Star break. It’s not their fault their division turned out to be a bit of a dud in the first half. What were they supposed to do, wait for everybody to catch up?
One of the recurrent and, frankly, absurd complaints about this Dodgers team is that it hasn’t proven yet that it can beat a contending team. The Dodgers haven’t won a series against a team that is currently over .500 since taking two of three games from the San Francisco Giants April 27-29 at Dodger Stadium.
Overall, the Dodgers are 8-18 against teams that have winning records at the moment and 42-20 against everybody else. Luckily for them, their schedule was extra front-loaded with division games this season, and it turns out the NL West wasn’t as good as everyone thought when the San Diego Padres made all those moves after the winter meetings.
So, here the Dodgers are, with a 5½-game lead in their division, even though they have lost six series against contenders and won one. Are they supposed to apologize for that?
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was in no mood to do so after his team rallied for a 3-2 victory over another rebuilding team, the Milwaukee Brewers, Friday night. Mattingly is aware the Dodgers eventually will have to beat contenders to get to where they want to go, because -- assuming they qualify for the playoffs -- they’ll see nothing but quality once mid-October gets here.
Plus, Mattingly pointed out, it’s not just who you’re playing, but when you’re playing them. Milwaukee came into L.A. having won nine of its previous 11 games after a dismal start that cost its manager, Ron Roenicke, his job.
“I just think you’ve got to win ‘X’ amount of games. It doesn’t matter where you get them,” Mattingly said. “You’re going to have to beat some good teams.”
But in the interim, there’s nothing like fattening up on the teams that often beat themselves. The previous two nights, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke simply overmatched the punchless Philadelphia Phillies. On Friday, the Dodgers ran into a starting pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, who has good movement on his pitches. They flailed for six innings before an error by third baseman Hernan Perez opened the door for the three unearned runs that cost Milwaukee the game. The Dodgers were getting no-hit until Joc Pederson came up with a one-out single in the sixth.
The Dodgers essentially stole a win, which is a textbook thing to do by a veteran team playing an untested one.
“Baseball’s funny. He had the no-hitter going. As soon as he gave up the one hit, things just kind of rolled,” Dodgers pitcher Mike Bolsinger said. “We’re never going to give up.”
If the Dodgers are to prove themselves against contending teams after the break, they’ll probably need more than two dominant starting pitchers and a solid No. 3. Lately, the injury-ravaged back of their rotation has been a mess, but Bolsinger had a nice bounce-back start, pitching six innings -- his deepest outing since June 8 -- and allowing two runs that wouldn’t have scored if catcher Yasmani Grandal had blocked a couple of curveballs in the dirt.
The Dodgers could get more hopeful news about their rotation if Brandon Beachy pitches well Saturday, though it’s a lot to ask for him to be dazzling after a 23-month layoff because of Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers are in hot pursuit of starting pitchers before the July 31 trade deadline, but as of Friday no trades were imminent, meaning Bolsinger’s solid start was a meaningful development.
He has been around long enough to know his hold on a rotation spot is always tenuous, especially pitching for a team with a $270 million payroll.
“I know my role as kind of a back-end-of-the-rotation guy is to kind of keep the team in the ballgame, and I haven’t really been doing that or going deep in games,” Bolsinger said. “Tonight, I wanted to make sure to keep the ballclub in the game, and I ended up doing that. You keep a team close with a lineup like we have, we’re going to produce runs. It’s only a matter of time.”
The Dodgers have played 88 games and won 56.8 percent of them. If they can keep winning at that rate after the All-Star break, they’ll almost certainly qualify for the playoffs -- and they will have proven they can beat winning teams along the way. With the going about to get tougher, they simply won’t have a choice.