The Dodgers were able to pull away late from the Diamondbacks on Saturday night, scoring three runs in the eighth to claim the 5-2 victory. It's a good thing, too, because the Giants jumped all over David Price and the Tigers, then held them off for the 5-4 win. At the end of the day, both teams are right where they were to start the day, as the Dodgers are two games up.
For much of the Dodgers' game, it was same old, same old. They got a couple of runs early thanks to a two-run shot from Adrian Gonzalez, his 20th of the season. Then they sat on that 2-0 lead, doing a big pile of nothing while Hyun-Jin Ryu settled into a groove.
Then Ryu got chased in the seventh, giving up a couple of runs, and denying him of a much-deserved victory. He ended up striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings, with an ERA that stands at 3.16.
After gathering one hit from innings 2-7, a Dee Gordon infield single in which he was soon erased trying to swipe second, the offense finally woke up on a two-out RBI single from Gordon and two-run double by Hanley Ramirez.
So here's the bottom line: if the Dodgers want to win the NL West by holding off the Giants and avoiding the dreaded one-game Wild Card playoff, their offense HAS to find a way to score consistent runs.
It's really that simple.
Look, the Dodgers will give you good starting pitching, especially in the playoffs where they can rely on Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Ryu to start the majority of the time. Even Dan Haren has turned things around, as he suffered through a horrible July with an ERA close to 10, and now has 12 wins. The bullpen has middle relief issues for the most part, but closer Kenley Jansen has 41 saves.
With the pitching being able to do their part, the offense has to do theirs. Since the beginning of August, the Dodgers are 18-15. In those 15 loses, the offense averaged 2.4 runs/game. In the 18 wins, it's 5.2. That's nearly a three-run difference between winning and losing, which is a pretty big gap.
The funny thing about stats is that if you look at total runs scored in the National League, the Dodgers are sixth, which isn't bad at all. In August they were ninth, and early in September it's the same. So that does show obvious regression.
What can they do to pick things up? Well, we need to see more of what we saw last night in the eighth inning. Two-out hitting with runners on will equal victories for lots of teams, just as it did for the Dodgers. Gordon kept it simple by going back up the middle for the first run, and Hanley finally did something other than pop up by driving in two.
I've pointed out many times before just how worried I am about Gordon and Yasiel Puig, as the two All-Stars are obviously wearing down from the long season, something they're not quite accustomed to yet. Puig didn't even play last night, as his bat has completely cooled off. If he can do something, ANYTHING, with the bat again, this team is so much better.
It's good to have Hanley and Juan Uribe back, because if they can stay on the field and get plenty of at-bats, they can only get better with improved timing. A-Gon and Kemp have found ways to drive in runs, so they need to keep it going.
The wild card (not the game, but figuratively) is Joc Pederson. You can tell Don Mattingly is a huge fan of his, as he's getting lots of chances to show his stuff in center. He's only 2-for-12 right now and hasn't driven in a run, but once that bat gets going, look out. He can be the surprise star of October if given a chance.
The bottom line is that with the Giants playing some great baseball lately, and the Dodgers kind of stuck in neutral, lots of work still need to be done to win the West. And the offense will be the key to it all. Will they continue to score a little here and there, and put lots of pressure on the pitching? Or will they get more guys to step up and lighten the load?
It will be an interesting September, that's for sure.