SAN DIEGO -- Time after time, the Los Angeles Dodgers have put themselves in premium run-scoring opportunities and failed to capitalize.
An 0-for-8 showing with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's Game 2 of the National League Division Series was followed by an 0-for-9 showing in Friday's Game 3. Their hitless streak in those situations has extended to 19 at-bats, tied for their longest rut of the season and marking their longest in a single playoff since 1981. Now their dominant season -- of 111 wins and a plus-334 run-differential, tied for the fourth-largest in history -- is on the verge of ending at the hands of the same San Diego Padres team they steamrolled over the previous six months. The postseason can often feel this sudden.
"They're pitching good right now, and we're not hitting," Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said after Los Angeles' 2-1 loss at Petco Park, which gave the Padres a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series. "We got to hit tomorrow."
San Diego native and lifelong Padres fan Joe Musgrove will take the ball in Saturday's Game 4 in front of what promises to be a frenzied home crowd and with an opportunity to extinguish a Dodgers team that cruised to a division title. The Dodgers, who will start left-hander Tyler Anderson, must get past Musgrove and figure out a way to muster offense against a Padres bullpen that has limited their prestigious offense to nine baserunners and zero runs in 13 innings this series.
The Padres scored on a two-out single from Jake Cronenworth in the first and a first-pitch, fourth-inning home run from Trent Grisham in the fourth -- his third this postseason, after hitting only two over his last 40 regular-season games. They, too, struggled offensively, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position -- but they did enough.
"Just timely hitting," Mookie Betts said of the Dodgers' issues. "We're not stringing together a lot of at-bats to score runs."
Betts led off the game with a single off Blake Snell and didn't score, instead watching Trea Turner, Freeman and Will Smith strike out in order. It would become a theme. On two occasions, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters reached base with none out and the celebrated top of the Dodgers' order did not come through. In the third, Betts lined out, Turner struck out and, after Freeman's walk, Smith popped out. In the fifth, Betts contributed a sacrifice fly, but Turner popped out and Freeman grounded out, failing to get the tying run in from third base.
"We're being hyper-aggressive early in counts and not staying on the ball," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "They're getting us with spin, they're getting us on the outside part of the plate."
Another opportunity presented itself in the eighth, when Turner led off with an infield single. Freeman, Smith and Muncy were due up next, but Turner, the fastest man in baseball, did not attempt the stolen base that would have put the tying run in scoring position. The one time he seemed to be leaning toward doing so, Padres reliever Robert Suarez nearly picked him off, causing Turner to jam his right ring finger against first base. Turner retreated to the dugout to get taped -- postgame X-rays on his finger were negative -- then watched the Nos. 3-5 hitters go down in order.
"He's pretty quick to the plate," Turner said of not attempting to steal. "He looks like he has a large leg kick, but it's faster than you think, the times are pretty low. He's under [1.3 seconds from the start of his deliver to when the baseball reaches the catcher's mitt] a lot, a couple 1.4's in there, so you got to pick and choose spots when you can try to take them. He was throwing the ball well, so I didn't want to give them any easy outs."
The easy outs came the following inning, when Josh Hader, who has looked more like his dominant self of late, breezed through the bottom part of the Dodgers' lineup, culminating his outing with back-to-back strikeouts and igniting a sold-out, playoff-starved crowd of 45,137.
The Dodgers won their last nine regular-season games against the Padres in 2021, then went 14-5 against them in 2022, scoring more than twice as many runs in the season series. After 162 games, they were 22 games better. But none of that matters now. The Padres, hosting a postseason series with fans in the stands for the first time since 2006, are one win away from eliminating the team they've been chasing for the franchise's entire existence, never more aggressively than in these past four years.
Betts was asked if he's shocked that his star-studded team finds itself in this position.
"I'm not shocked at all," he said. "They're a good ball team. Regular season doesn't mean anything. They're playing well. We haven't."