PHOENIX — If the loss of Clayton Kershaw inspired the Los Angeles Dodgers to rally together, the anticipation of his return seems to have started the club on a mini slide.
The Dodgers dropped their second consecutive game at Arizona, falling 6-5 to the Diamondbacks following a frantic rally that fell just short. The defeat came a day after the Dodgers succumbed in 12 innings.
Without Kershaw, who is on the disabled list with a sore lower back, things figured to be off-kilter, but the topsy-turvy last three weeks would have been hard to predict.
Ultimately, the team has done just fine without Kershaw, going 11-6. But the fashion that they have carved out that record has shown how volatile things can be without the anchor of the pitching staff.
The Dodgers pulled together to win six of seven games immediately after Kershaw went down. But they then went into a three-game skid, followed by a four-game win streak that wrapped around both sides of the All-Star break.
Now, with Kershaw’s return approaching, the Dodgers have dropped two consecutive — not a terribly long run, but alarming enough since the Diamondbacks are last in the National League West at 40-53.
Manager Dave Roberts agreed that there is a sense of having to keep things together until injured players return, but using Kershaw’s absence as a crutch won’t work.
“I think that’s part of it, but also the part of it is that Clayton doesn’t pitch every day, it’s every fifth day, and even without Clayton we’re good enough to win baseball games,” Roberts said. “That’s in the rest of the guys, to do as we talked about, do a little more. We’re 11-6 without Clayton, but with or without Clayton, we have to continue to get better.”
The Dodgers still do not have an official date for Kershaw’s first start off the disabled list, but it has not been ruled out that he could pitch before the club returns home for its second-half opener on July 26 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
If the Dodgers are to have one more run of success before their staff ace comes back, it will not be an easy task. Next up is the Washington Nationals, starting Tuesday in the nation’s capital. At the start of play Sunday, the Nationals led the National League East and had the second best record in the NL at 56-36.
After that, it’s the visit to St. Louis, which has been a traditional meat grinder. The St. Louis Cardinals are not as consistent as they have been in recent years, but they still have experience and they still are in second place in the NL Central at 47-44.
The Dodgers’ offensive inconsistencies caught up to them in the desert. The club did storm out of the gate in the second half to score 13 runs in the series opener, but they managed just one run in 12 innings Saturday, and had just two (on one swing by Justin Turner) on Sunday before the ninth inning started.
They did rally for three runs in the ninth, two more from Turner on a single, but with the tying run at third base and the go-ahead run at first with one out, Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor struck out to end it. Puig had a five-pitch at-bat and the only pitch he didn’t swing at was a 56-foot slider from Diamondbacks reliever Jake Barrett.
“I think he’s trying to do too much,” Roberts said of Puig. “When guys get into scoring position, and it gets hot, Yasiel, you can see the tension and he starts to squeeze the bat too much. I think it’s a case of trying to do too much.”
When Puig has struggled this season, namely early in the year, it has been when he has looked too anxious at the plate. His offense has been better of late, but his anxiousness returned with the game on the line Sunday.
“Sometimes you want to be the hero but you can’t do it every time,” Puig said through an interpreter. “That’s when the other nine players help you out. Today, I was trying to put the ball in play and score Turner from third. I wasn’t able to, but there will be more opportunities in the future.”
Puig also had a bases-loaded chance in the 12th inning Saturday, but grounded out.
“It’s very hard; that’s how baseball is,” he said. “You have to keep moving forward. They gave me an opportunity yesterday. They gave me an opportunity today. They would give me an opportunity tomorrow, but there’s no game so I’ll have to wait until Tuesday.”
By then, Joc Pederson is expected to return so perhaps the offense will get the kind of boost it needs. Kershaw’s return will come next and it figures to provide a physical and mental lift.
Puig is staying positive.
“There are 78 games to go,” he said. “We’ll be all right.”