LOS ANGELES -- As Robbie Ray and the Arizona Diamondbacks are finding out, the Los Angeles Dodgers are like a baseball version of the Borg from "Star Trek." We’ll explain that in a bit.
First, the meat of the subject is that the Dodgers knocked off the Diamondbacks 8-5 on Saturday to seize a 2-0 lead in their National League Division Series matchup. Austin Barnes and Yasiel Puig each drove in two runs to back the work of seven L.A. pitchers.
“These games are dogfights,” Barnes said. “It’s going to take a team effort and a collective unit. We’ve been doing this kind of all year.”
Now, to explain that analogy for the uninitiated: The Borg are an alien collective with a hive-like consciousness. Their M.O. is to find, conquer and assimilate new civilizations. With each assimilation, subsequent iterations of themselves are improved. If what you do works, they will make it theirs. There is no individuality.
Sure, that’s laying it on a bit thick, but these are the things that occur to you when you have watched the Dodgers for the past six months. Resisting the Dodgers is futile. Your successful track record against them is irrelevant. You can come at them with stars, and they will come back at you with a machinelike efficiency that improves with each iteration.
“We did a good job as a lineup just making [Ray] work,” Barnes said. “That’s obviously the better approach we’ve had against him. We’ve seen him many times, so we knew what we were going to get.”
To wit: The Dodgers failed to beat Ray in five tries during the regular season. Two of those were no-decisions, but he was 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA and struck out a ridiculous 53 batters in 31⅔ innings.
These numbers, we remind you, were put up against a team that won 104 games.
As it turned out, all of that was merely bytes of data for the Dodgers to sort through -- to assimilate, if you will -- and turn to their advantage. Or, perhaps, Ray simply had a bad night.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s always a tall task trying to battle him and get baserunners. I think, today, he just wasn’t that sharp. The fastball command wasn’t like it has been against us. I think he couldn’t strike the breaking ball. To our guys’ credit, we got the pitch count up and took advantage of that.”
There’s plenty of evidence for the latter theory. Ray walked four batters over the first three innings. He threw three wild pitches -- the first postseason pitcher to do that since Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo in 2001. He plunked Justin Turner with a pitch that, as it turned out, kick-started a four-run L.A. rally in the fifth that broke the game open.
“Well, they grind out their at-bats,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “No matter who is at the plate. There is a lot of versatility they have.”
Still, this was Dodgers baseball, circa the 21st century. If the pitcher is wild, let him be wild. If the outfielder throws to the wrong base -- as J.D. Martinez did during that fifth inning -- take the free bag. If the baserunners are being ignored, let them steal -- L.A. had four thefts on the night.
The stars of the Dodgers’ lineup were mostly quiet. None of Corey Seager, Turner or Cody Bellinger had a particularly big night.
Instead, it was an RBI single from Chris Taylor here, a pinch-hit single by Curtis Granderson there, Barnes’ big hit, Puig delighting the crowd with his antics and his production. All of these things strung together to build a 7-2 Dodgers firewall against defeat.
“We’ve got a lot of good players and a lot of good depth,” Roberts said. “There are so many guys in our lineup that can hurt you. I don’t how many times they were on base, but those 6, 7, 8 spots [in the batting order] were on base all night, being productive, driving runs in.”
And there wasn’t a dominant pitching performance, either, to define the evening. Rich Hill gave up Paul Goldschmidt‘s two-run homer early, but settled in thereafter. But when the Dodgers loaded the bases in the fifth, he was removed. It was what the collective called for. Tony Cingrani got one out. Kenta Maeda, a starter for most of the season, looked like a bona-fide reliever, striking out two of the three he faced.
“The big thing for us is the guys that aren’t in there are wanting to prove something, and I think that gives them a little added edge,” second baseman Logan Forsythe said. “They come out with a chip on their shoulder, and they want to get the job done.”
The Dodgers again ran into trouble in the seventh, as they did Friday when Clayton Kershaw was chased by back-to-back homers. Tony Watson gave up a pair of singles, and Brandon Morrow came on to serve up Brandon Drury's pinch-hit, three-run homer. As it was for a fleeting moment of Game 1, the Diamondbacks had again become a threat.
“That’s one of the great characteristics of this team,” Lovullo said. “We’re a smart, tough baseball team, and we feel like we can strike at any time offensively.”
No worries. The Dodgers loaded the bases against Archie Bradley, and a drone, er, Taylor ripped one through the legs of Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte into left field for an insurance run. Then, to complete the assimilation, closer Kenley Jansen came on to demonstrate the futility of resistance, getting the final five outs of the night.
For L.A., this setup-relief issue is the most worrisome trait of an otherwise unassailable Dodgers roster. It was telling that last season’s setup ace, Pedro Baez, who has struggled lately, didn’t contribute. For the Diamondback to exploit that flaw, they’ll need to assimilate a few lessons of their own.
Now the Diamondbacks are in survival mode. The series shifts back to Phoenix for Monday’s Game 3, and Arizona will turn to their ace, former Dodger Zack Greinke, to save their season. Greinke is certainly capable of doing that. But the Dodgers know Greinke well, and we know what the Dodgers do with knowledge.
“If you’ve got to pick one guy to stop this situation that we’re in,” Lovullo said, “I think we’ve found the right guy in Zack Greinke.”
Reminders that the Dodgers are a great, ancient civilization were all over the place before the game. Tommy Lasorda was recognized during a video celebration. Maury Wills threw out the first pitch. Sandy Koufax was hanging around, still looking so fit from a distance that you could almost see him getting a batter or two.
But those great individuals helped establish the Dodgers brand, and now that brand trumps everything. The Dodgers have stars, but the stars are parts of a whole that have grown into something great. The Diamondbacks are tasked with finding a weakness in this machine, and they are almost out of time to do so.