LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers cannot hit left-handed pitching, or at least that is how the second-half narrative has gone, with their weakness only magnified under the spotlight of a pennant chase.
The Dodgers did score nine runs in a losing effort at Arizona on Sunday when left-hander Robbie Ray was the starter, so there are reasons for hope, but the numbers bear out the Dodgers’ issues. They are last in batting average and OPS in all of baseball against lefties, yet they have still forged a large lead in the NL West with two weeks to play, and Dodgers players have grown weary of the conversation.
“By not standing in front of your locker and answering questions after a game,” a peeved Turner said. “It’s just making a bigger deal out of it than it is. We know there are lefties in our division and we have to win games.”
There are lefties in the division. Plenty of them.
And looking at one of those NL West lefties sheds some light on how upside down and wacky this Dodgers season has been.
The Dodgers are batting a miserable .213 against left-handers, with a .626 OPS, but they have been successful this season against San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, of all people. That is the same Bumgarner they will face Monday night in the opener of a key three-game series against the Giants. Clayton Kershaw will pitch for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have faced Bumgarner three times this season and won all three games. They beat him twice in April and once in August, so it wasn’t like they took advantage of an offensive hot streak or a Bumgarner cold snap.
The Dodgers have batted .311 with a .514 slugging percentage in 16 innings against Bumgarner this season. Of the four teams Bumgarner has faced at least three times this season -- all NL West opponents -- the Dodgers’ numbers are easily the highest.
In the opening week of the season, Kershaw matched Bumgarner in a pitchers’ duel and the Dodgers won a close one after the bullpens took over. At Dodger Stadium a week later, Enrique Hernandez led an offensive onslaught with a pair of home runs from the leadoff spot.
And when Bumgarner was torched by the Dodgers on Aug. 23, Rob Segedin helped lead the charge on what was arguably the best day of his life. He not only hit a home run off Bumgarner, he raced to the hospital before the game had even ended for the birth of his first child.
So what will the Dodgers have in store for Bumgarner this time? For starters, expect Hernandez in the leadoff spot, probably playing center field. A superutility guy who has received sporadic playing time, Hernandez has seven multihit games this year -- and three of them have come in games when Bumgarner was the opposing starter.
Segedin could play as well, although his playing time of late has been even more sporadic than Hernandez’s. Segedin has one hit since Aug. 31, a single Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
Instead, the Dodgers’ chances Monday could come from a more traditional contributor. Kershaw will make his fourth start of the season against the Giants, coming off an impressive five scoreless innings Wednesday against the Yankees.
Even with the Giants in the midst of a brutal second half and Kershaw still working his way back after missing 75 days with a lower back injury, Kershaw-Bumgarner still rolls off the tongue. It’s an invitation to something fully worthwhile.
In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Dodgers and Giants have six games against each other. There is no better way to start this stretch drive than with two of the best arms in baseball.
But this one might be only the preview to what could be a real gem in 11 days. With the Dodgers and Giants matching up down the stretch (they each have their last off day on Sept. 26), the Kershaw-Bumgarner duel figures to be replayed again Sept. 30 to kick off the opening game of the last series of the season at San Francisco.
The Dodgers know they need to improve their fortunes against left-handers as the postseason approaches. Sure they have gotten to Bumgarner three times, but the lefty still figures to get two more chances for revenge. And the Dodgers will probably have to face Giants lefty Matt Moore twice as well, including the last day of the season. All Moore did the last time he faced the Dodgers was come an out from a no-hitter before Corey Seager blooped a single.
More lefty tests await if the Dodgers ultimately advance to the postseason. The top National League contenders each have a lefty waiting to do some damage. The Chicago Cubs have Jon Lester, while the Washington Nationals have Gio Gonzalez. The Giants have Bumgarner and Moore.
Veteran Adrian Gonzalez, who hit a game-tying three-run double against a left-hander Sunday, is practicing more patience than Turner with the club’s lefty issue, but he knows that go time is near.
“If it comes down to it, we have to figure out how to hit against [lefties],” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to look too much into it right now, but we have to do a better job when it comes to the playoffs. That’s it. We know we can do it. I hope we do it when it counts.”
Perhaps Turner’s motivation was to quell all the talk about lefty struggles and not make it something that the younger players have to deal with. Or maybe his frustration was rooted in his own struggles against lefties this year, even though he is in the midst of his best offensive season.
It has been that kind of backward season for the Dodgers when down (to the disabled list) has meant up (in the standings). When left has not always been right. When an organization known for its starting pitchers has been led by the offense and the bullpen.
“I just think for us, the offense is in and out,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve been good, then we’ve been not so good. We’re playing great defense. I think starting pitching now with Clayton getting back and [Rich] Hill and Kenta [Maeda], I think the young kids have really been holding their own. The team offense approach has to be a little more consistent for me.”