The jeers arrived in the seventh inning, but they sounded wan and jaded, a product of a Dodger Stadium crowd weary after such a steady diet of disappointment. The joy of the first five months of this season felt far away in Wednesday evening’s 3-1 loss to Arizona, the 11th in 12 games for the Dodgers.
The crowd booed when Luis Avilan grazed Arizona infielder Daniel Descalso with a pitch to drive in a run during a two-run stumble in the top of the seventh. They booed when Enrique Hernandez grounded into a double play in the bottom of the inning. They booed when the game ended, when the Diamondbacks completed their second sweep of the Dodgers in less than a fortnight and won for the 13th game in a row.
On Aug. 25, the Dodgers (92-47) led the National League West by 21 games. The lead shriveled to 10 1/2 on Wednesday. The Dodgers are still the prohibitive favorites. But the quest for history has ended. It has been replaced by a quest to survive.
Or, perhaps, to just win a game again.
“We’ve found different ways to lose,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers will turn to ace Clayton Kershaw against Colorado on Thursday. Kershaw collected the only victory this team has achieved in the last 12 games with six scoreless innings last weekend in San Diego. His performance ended a five-game losing streak. His teammates responded by losing six in a row.
A full-blown collapse still feels unlikely, especially as Corey Seager returns to the lineup Friday. The odds remain in the Dodgers’ favor. On Wednesday morning, the projection systems from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus settled on the same number to predict the Dodgers’ chances of winning the National League West: 100%.
“We’re going to win the division,” Roberts said. “I can assure you of that.”
The numbers do not reflect the uncertainty created by the fluid nature of the team’s roster. The playoffs start in one month, and the Dodgers have not determined how to assemble their lineup. Joc Pederson returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, in his first appearance with the Dodgers since getting demoted Aug. 18. The team had settled on Chris Taylor as the regular center fielder, but Taylor has been playing shortstop while Seager rests his sore elbow.
Taylor was an infielder before he converted to the outfield this season. But the team appears to view him as the best defensive option in center field. Pederson has regressed as a fielder, and Alex Verdugo remains an untested rookie. The team would prefer to use Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in the corners.
Cody Bellinger started in center field Tuesday. That may not happen again. Adrian Gonzalez, the veteran first baseman, is still slowed by the herniated disk in his back, Roberts said. The injury might keep Gonzalez off the playoff roster.
Gonzalez sat Wednesday. So did Ethier. Taylor stayed at shortstop, and sparked a first-inning rally with a leadoff double against Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker. Taylor advanced to third on a flyout by Granderson. After Justin Turner walked, Taylor scored on a groundout by Cody Bellinger.
The run gave the Dodgers a lead, and it ended an incredible streak for the Diamondbacks. The team had not trailed once during its previous 97 innings. It would not trail for long Wednesday.
In the top of the second, Taylor bobbled a leadoff grounder hit by A.J. Pollock. Pollock read Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda’s delivery perfectly and stole second base without a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal. With two outs, Maeda hung a 1-2 slider to Walker, who tied the score with a double.
Maeda would not buckle again. He did not replicate his last outing against Arizona, when the Diamondbacks charged him with seven runs in three innings. His pace was plodding, but he dragged himself through five innings without allowing another run.
The Dodgers poked at Walker but could not break through for a second run. Grandal stranded two runners in the third. Puig got caught stealing after leading off the fourth with a walk.
In the sixth, Turner was irritated by a called third strike from umpire Chad Fairchild. A 2-2 fastball from Walker appeared to arrive well outside the zone. Fairchild disagreed. From the dugout, Turner informed Fairchild about the egregiousness of the call. Fairchild ejected Turner, who would later apologize to Roberts for getting himself removed from the game.
“It’s a helpless feeling,” Turner said. “If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day.”
Turner watched from the bench as Avilan imploded. The collapse was not swift, which only amplified the discomfort. Ketel Marte singled. Pinch-hitter Adam Rosales broke the deadlock with a double.
The situation did not improve. Outfielder David Peralta hit a single. Avilan picked up two outs, and Roberts instructed him to intentionally walk J.D. Martinez. The maneuver made sense, as it allowed the lefty Avilan to face Descalso, a left-handed hitter. The matchup made no difference. Avilan’s fastball clipped Descalso’s arm to extend the Dodgers’ misery.
“There’s really nothing to say,” Roberts said. “But we’ve got to find a way to win a game.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes