September 22, 2023

Dodgers beat the top Rays in the big league with timely offense and pitching

From left, Dodgers catcher Will Smith, third baseman Max Muncy, reliever Caleb Ferguson and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

All season, the Dodgers offense was inconsistent but productive, streaky but successful.

“If you look at where guys are at,” said manager Dave Roberts on Saturday, “some guys have been freezing and then they get really hot.”

That was the case again in the Dodgers’ come-from-behind, 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, pairing superstar performances from Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts with just enough offensive power from the rest of the team. .

Despite leading by three runs early, as Clayton Kershaw again struggled in a five-inning, four-run start to end one of the worst months of his big league career, the Dodgers (32-21) held on and came to a rally. late, a three-game tie against the Major League-leading Rays (38-16) in the same way they have won the most games recently:

Timely Violation. Pitch clutch bullpen. And late-game heroics from an ever-changing cast of contributors.

“That was a gritty win,” said Roberts afterwards. “It’s just a bunch of guys who are really involved in the team attack.”

The key piece of the game came in the top of the seventh inning, as the Dodgers trailed 4-3 and faced a third consecutive loss.

The inning’s lead-off batter, pinch-hitter Trayce Thompson, struckout to extend his six-week hitless streak to 39 at bats—the longest by a Dodgers batter in more than a century.

The next batter, shortstop Miguel Rojas, started the day with a .208 batting average, one of many players flirting with Mendoza’s line in a Dodgers team that somehow still leads in the National League.

“You just kind of bet on guys,” Roberts said of building a lineup full of talented but inconsistent hitters. “Find out who’s the best option that day.”

On Saturday, Roberts’ gamble on Rojas – who has been on an upward spiral lately with his bat and defensive play – paid off.

He singled through the center of the infield, putting some pressure on Rays reliever Colin Poche. Three pitches later, Poche poked a slider that put Rojas in second.

From there, the batting order was reversed and the Dodgers’ big bats came through.

Betts tied the score with an RBI single to raise his season batting average to .389 with runners in scoring position.

After Betts stole second base, Freeman hit his second double of the day—extending his hitting streak to 16 games—to give the Dodgers a 5–4 lead.

The Dodgers' Freddie Freeman watches his go-ahead, RBI double during the seventh inning.

Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers sees his go-ahead, RBI double during the seventh inning. (Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

“We prefer not to play from behind, but you gotta play the cards you’re dealt,” Betts said after the Dodgers’ 15th comeback win of the season. “It’s not about the leads and stuff for us. We have to play 27 outs.”

Earlier in the game, it didn’t look like the Dodgers would need to mount a rally against the Rays.

Max Muncy started the day with a two-for-27 slump, but hit a solo home run to open the scoring in the second before hitting an RBI double to make it 2-0 in the fourth.

“We’ve been working hard this past week to figure something out,” Muncy said. “Part of it is that there is a little bit of a difference in the mechanics. Most of it is, there’s just not much to hit the plate.

The Dodgers later scored another run in the fourth inning. Muncy advanced to third base on a productive groundout by Jason Heyward. He then scored on a wild pitch by Tyler Glasnow, the Tampa Bay ace who made his first start of the season.

“You don’t see that kind of thing in the score book or the box score,” Kershaw said. “You can’t say enough good things about our attack.”

The only problem: Kershaw couldn’t finalize the early 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the fourth, he walked the lead-off batter, hung a slider on the first pitch that Christian Bethancourt hammered for a double, then waved helplessly to a Manuel Margot comebacker who came through the infield for a two-run single.

Things got worse in the fifth when Harold Ramírez jumped on a fastball off the first pitch for a go-ahead two-run homer to right.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw gave up four runs in five innings, raising his May ERA to 5.55.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw gave up four runs in five innings, raising his May ERA to 5.55. (Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

By the end of his start, Kershaw’s May ERA had risen to 5.55—the second-highest in a month, at least three starts, in his major league career.

When asked what has changed since April when he was the NL pitcher of the month with an 1.89 ERA, the 35-year-old was quick to point out a glaring issue.

“My command just got really inconsistent,” Kershaw said. “It’s frustrating. It’s not really something I’m used to struggling with. But it is what it is. You have to keep grinding. I have to try and figure that out as best I can.”

But after Kershaw’s departure in the fifth inning, the Dodgers offense recovered.

The team’s seventh-inning rally put the team in position to use relievers Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips with high leverage.

The Dodgers' Miguel Vargas looks to the sky after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning on May 27, 2023.
Miguel Vargas looks to the sky after hitting a solo home run for the Dodgers in the eighth inning. (Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

Then rookie Miguel Vargas hit a solo homer in the eighth, providing what turned out to be important insurance after Caleb Ferguson gave up one run in the ninth before finishing the game with men on the corners.

“For us to get a lead, and then lose it, and come back and fight back, scratch and claw, it was just a really good win overall,” said Roberts. “Now we have a chance to win the series.”

And if the past is another precedent, the Dodgers need a stronger offense to do it.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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