HOUSTON – One season-long mystery has been one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' biggest sources of frustration: Why aren’t more runs coming from of all the noise their offense is making?
They have power. They have depth. They have patience. Yet they’re not scoring, or at least not enough runs to get them on the kind of roll they’re hoping can finally gain them a little room to breathe in a closer-than-they’d-like NL West race.
The Dodgers lead the National League in home runs. They are second in both OPS and slugging but are sixth in runs scored. Something doesn’t add up. Whatever it is, and poor baserunning has to figure into any investigation, it has been maddening for them at times. One of those times was Saturday night, when they out-hit the Houston Astros 7-3 and lost 3-1.
As veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins pointed out, cheerfully, “It’s much better than the night before,” which is difficult to argue with considering they got no-hit by Mike Fiers Friday night. But it wasn’t entirely satisfactory either, considering they didn’t get their first base runner until the fourth inning and only managed two legitimate scoring threats all night. The upshot was another loss, four in a row now, all at the feet of the offense.
Until Saturday, they hadn’t even run into an upper-echelon starter. Scott Kazmir was the best starting pitcher they’ve faced in this stretch of general futility, though Fiers certainly had the night of a lifetime Friday.
The Dodgers aren’t in the kind of mind-numbing slump they experienced in San Francisco back in May, when they went three days without scoring and managed two runs over five games, but this short, deep slump is coming at a worse time. Not only aren’t they putting the San Francisco Giants away, they’re keeping them stuck to their backs.
“It feels like we’re not swinging the bats great right now. The energy’s really not what we would like,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
They were reducing the game to its most basic elements Saturday to figure out how to navigate their way out of it.
“Hits are great. Runs are even better,” Rollins said. “Getting a guy on, whether it be a walk, you steal a bag, something we haven’t found a way to do much of, is manufacture runs. That’s the way to do it, but you definitely need hits along the way.”
The Dodgers certainly don’t manufacture runs well. They are last in the league with 30 stolen bases, last in the league with a 52-percent success rate on steals, and only four teams have fewer sacrifices.
Asked to elaborate on his comment that the offense lacks energy, Mattingly said it’s a matter of results shaping perception.
“The only way, basically, to get out of it is to put some runs on the board and guys getting hits all over the place. That’s always fun,” he said. “When you’re not getting hits, it kind of rolls over from one game to the next.”
This would be a good time to stop that roll, because their window to put San Francisco away is closing fast. The Giants are navigating a tough stretch of games against the tough teams atop the NL Central, but that only goes until the end of the month. The Dodgers lead San Francisco by just 1½ games with 41 games left.
Their starting pitching can’t go it alone, though there are times when it comes close. Zack Greinke (13-3) took his first loss since June 13 despite allowing just three hits and no walks over seven innings. The problem is they were well-struck, impactful hits. Jose Altuve scored two of runs on a triple and a home run and Luis Valbuena also took Greinke deep.
After Altuve’s home run gave Houston a two-run lead in the sixth, Greinke started getting a sinking feeling.
“Scott’s been throwing the ball good all year,” Greinke said. “The first run, I didn’t think much of it, even the second run, I didn’t think much of it. But the third, I knew it was going to be tough from there.”