The revival of the 2018 Dodgers is not hard to explain. It involves brute force, a slugging brigade capable of obscuring the rest of the roster’s flaws. The Dodgers keep winning, as they did in a 7-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, because they keep hitting the ball over the fence.
The lineup clubbed three more to push their total to 51 in June. No team in baseball has been that ferocious this month. The Dodgers have already more than doubled their total from March and April (25) and exceeded their mark from May (31).
“It’s scary facing us,” first baseman Cody Bellinger said. “We’re clicking right now. It’s been fun to be a part of.”
The script Wednesday looked familiar. Max Muncy went deep in the first inning. Joc Pederson supplied a two-run shot in the second. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks could not complete the third.
Handed a sizable advantage, Alex Wood pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since his season debut on March 30. Wood surrendered a two-run homer in the fourth at-bat of the game but recovered to give up only one other run. He struck out six and walked none.
“You never want to give up runs early, especially to a team like the Cubs,” Wood said. “For us to answer back gave me a bit of confidence.”
The lead nearly disappeared in the eighth inning. Scott Alexander served up a two-run double to Cubs catcher Willson Contreras that cut the advantage to one. Kenley Jansen arrived for a four-out save. After Jansen stranded the tying run at third base, Bellinger boomed a solo shot for insurance in the bottom of the inning.
The Dodgers (43-36) played with a 24-man roster Wednesday. Major League Baseball denied Matt Kemp’s appeal for the one-game suspension levied after he squabbled with Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos on June 14. Kemp was not eligible to be in the dugout during the game.
But Kemp was around beforehand. He was at his locker when he gazed up at a clubhouse television. On the screen, the panelists on MLB Network were discussing how the acquisition of Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado would improve the Dodgers. The television cut to a theoretical lineup including Machado.
Kemp cracked a smile.
“Dang, they bumped me all the way down to the six hole,” he said. His teammates and a few reporters burst into laughter. “Why y’all laughing?” Kemp continued to stare in amazement. “J.T.’s down to fifth.” He looked over at shortstop Chris Taylor. “Chris ... you got benched.”
The Dodgers have engaged with Baltimore in the past about Machado, and are likely to continue those conversations as the trade deadline approaches. But the roster may have more pressing needs. Wood has not replicated his form from 2017, when he made his first All-Star team and carved out a spot in the playoff rotation.
The Cubs banged Wood around in Wednesday’s first inning. After haunting the Dodgers a day earlier, infielder Javier Baez smashed a two-out double against Wood, and Contreras pulled a low curveball inside the left-field pole for a two-run shot.
“I was shocked he put that swing on it,” Wood said. “Sometimes they’ll get you. Contreras and Baez, they’re swinging hot sticks right now.”
The lineup would not let Wood remain on the hook for long. Muncy collected his 16th homer of the season on a belt-high sinker from Hendricks in the bottom of the first. The solo shot cut the deficit in half. As an added insult, the baseball bounced back onto the field and conked Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., on the head. The offense did more damage soon after.
After a walk by Justin Turner, Bellinger singled. Turner reached third but got thrown out at the plate on a grounder from Enrique Hernandez. Turner objected to the force of the tag from Contreras and exchanged words with him.
Playing shorthanded, manager Dave Roberts had reminded the players to avoid ejections.
Soon after Turner reached the dugout, his team took the lead. Yasmani Grandal clubbed an 88-mph fastball off the wall in right for a two-run double.
“When there’s a mistake in the zone, we do a good job of hitting it hard,” Roberts said.
Wood started another flurry in the second. Hendricks fell behind in the count and served up a 3-1 sinker. Wood poked the pitch into left field for his first hit of the season. He trotted around the bases when Pederson demolished an elevated fastball for a two-run homer.
The Dodgers soon cobbled together a sixth run on a walk by Muncy, a single by Turner and an RBI single from Hernandez. Hendricks had not permitted this many runs in a game since 2015. He left the game with two outs in the third. It was his shortest start since 2016.
Wood avoided further damage until the fifth. The Cubs created traffic on the bases and capitalized. With first baseman Ian Happ at second base, Jason Heyward dribbled a grounder down the first base line. Wood tried to scoop it with his glove and flick the baseball to first base. Heyward might have beaten the throw, but Muncy could not corral the baseball.
Wood put his hands on his head as Heyward was called safe. Behind the play, Happ kept running. He dived in ahead of the tag from Grandal to trim the Dodgers’ lead to three.
The tumult did not upset Wood. He rebounded to retire the final seven batters he faced.
Alexander put the game in doubt, but Bellinger provided a solution for the unease: He hit the ball over the fence, walloping a 94-mph fastball from Cubs reliever Randy Rosario.