Dave Roberts folded his arms across his chest. The worst road trip of the Dodgers’ season had just ended, and so he sat inside the visiting manager’s office at Petco Park. The particulars of the previous week were gruesome: Six losses in seven games, a pitching staff pillaged, an offense somnolent. In the fallout of a 6-4 defeat to the Padres, Roberts maintained his composure.
“I can assure you,” Roberts said, “this won’t break us.”
A wretched week cannot offset five months of glory. The Dodgers (92-44) still lead the National League West by 13½ games. They lead Houston by nine games and Washington by 10 in the race for home-field advantage in the postseason. They will spill champagne to celebrate a division title and could break the franchise record for most regular-season victories later this month. Where this group ranks in Dodgers lore won’t be determined until October.
None of that changed during the last six days, which is worthwhile to remember as you inspect the wreckage. Sunday felt like more of the same. After the Dodgers lost a doubleheader on Saturday, Alex Wood returned from the disabled list to allow four runs in six innings. An exhausted bullpen forced 28-year-old rookie Fabio Castillo into the game in the seventh, and he gave up two runs.
It was a deflating way to finish the trip. On the first leg, Arizona blistered the Dodgers’ starters in a sweep at Chase Field. Only a sterling performance by Clayton Kershaw on Friday kept the team from a weeklong winless streak. Overall the Dodgers have dropped eight of their last nine and three series in a row.
The losing obscured a bit of history. In the top of the ninth Sunday, Cody Bellinger unleashed a solo shot for his 36th home run of the season. He snapped Mike Piazza’s franchise record from 1993 for homers hit by a rookie. Inside a muted clubhouse, Bellinger had trouble basking in the moment, but insisted there was little reason to panic.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “And I know no one in this clubhouse is worried [about] what’s happened in the last week.”
Bellinger would do well not to check his notifications on Twitter. His manager says he does not monitor social media. He relies on intel from his teenage son, Cole. Roberts laughed when asked about the recent reports.
“I don’t want to share those publicly,” Roberts said. “It’s going to hurt some players’ feelings.”
Roberts said he understood the concern from fans. He indicated he hoped “they don’t jump off the bandwagon” based on one terrible trip.
“It’s the same team,” he said. “We have the same goal. We’re going to be just fine. We can’t win every game.”
The primary problem has been the starting pitching. In the six games leading up to Sunday, Dodgers starters lasted 23 2/3 innings and allowed 25 runs. Even factoring in six scoreless innings from Kershaw, the collective earned-run average was 9.51.
The weeklong slog meant the bullpen was drained by Sunday. Roberts hoped Wood could keep the relievers off their feet. He was not on a strict pitch limit, despite a 13-day layoff because of inflammation in a shoulder joint.
Wood showed signs of rust. He issued a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning to outfielder Jose Pirela and gave up a subsequent single to first baseman Wil Myers. A 1-2 curveball to third baseman Yangervis Solarte veered well out of the strike zone. The baseball ticked off the glove of catcher Yasmani Grandal, but the official scorer ruled it a wild pitch. Pirela scored from third.
The Dodgers handed Wood a lead in the fourth with a home run by Chris Taylor and an RBI double by Justin Turner. The advantage was not safe. Wood screamed in anger after his third pitch in the bottom of the fourth, a hanging 0-and-2 curveball that Padres outfielder Matt Szczur drove deep to center field for a double. His next pitch was just as frustrating, a flat changeup driven into the left-field seats by shortstop Erick Aybar.
“I made two bad pitches, back-to-back,” Wood said.
During his last outing here, on June 30, Wood sparked a fracas when he threatened to drill Pirela for allegedly stealing signs at second base. The histrionics were limited on Sunday. Instead, Pirela responded with his bat. In the fifth, he pulled a 91-mph fastball over the left-field fence for a solo homer to expand San Diego’s lead. The Padres blitzed Castillo in the seventh. The homer by Bellinger only made the score a bit more respectable.
After a week like this, a return to Dodger Stadium felt welcome, even if the opponent will not make life easy: Another three-game series with Arizona awaits. As the players packed up, they hoped to leave this trip in the past.
“I think it’s a statistical improbability to go an entire season without getting punched in the face, at any point,” Wood said. “We’ve been so good for so long that we have a rough patch for a week and everyone is like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’
“It happens to everybody. The best teams in the world, this happens to. We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep playing the baseball that we’re supposed to be, and we’ll be fine.”