At this point, after 10 losses in a row and 15 defeats in 16 games, the metaphors write themselves. On Sunday afternoon, during an 8-1 trouncing by Colorado, the Dodgers distributed a gift to thousands of fans at Dodger Stadium: A plastic trash can.
The timing was cruel. This season does not yet belong in the garbage bin of history, to be told as a cautionary tale of a group who flew too close to the sun. It only feels that way. The Dodgers (92-51) still own the best record in baseball.
And yet . . .
The losing streak equals the longest in Los Angeles Dodgers history — the 1961 and 1987 teams also lost 10 straight — and is the longest in the major leagues this year.
About half an hour after the latest defeat, Justin Turner stomped to his locker. He still wore his uniform. His fury was muted but firm.
“Just sitting back and saying ‘We’re still the best team in baseball’ isn’t the answer,” Turner said. “Because regardless of what the record says, right now we’re the worst team in baseball. What we did three months ago doesn’t mean a whole lot right now. No one in this league is going to feel sorry for us. No one in this league is going to show up and be like, ‘Oh, poor Dodgers.’
“There are a bunch of sharks in the water. We’re bleeding a little bit right now. I think teams are smelling the blood.”
The stench was powerful by the eighth inning Sunday. Walker Buehler, a 23-year-old rookie who is considered the organization’s top pitching prospect, received an indoctrination into what it means to be a Dodger in September 2017. He surrendered a grand slam to Rockies slugger Mark Reynolds. The blast turned a two-run game into a rout. The bullpen permitted two more runs after that.
It was a pitiful end to a pitiable homestand. The Dodgers were outscored 47-13 in seven games against Arizona and Colorado. The Diamondbacks have trimmed the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West to nine games. The Dodgers led by 21 games on Aug. 25. A full collapse is still statistically improbable — as long as, of course, the Dodgers manage to win once or twice in the next three weeks.
The players and manager Dave Roberts sounded a familiar chorus on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s really no explanation,” Roberts said. “We have to find a way to win a game.”
“We’ve just got to play better, honestly,” Corey Seager said. “It’s past the point of anger and frustration now.”
“Yeah,” Cody Bellinger said, “it sucks.”
Inside a somber clubhouse, the players packed for a three-city trip. They can only hope to find traction against last-place clubs like San Francisco and Philadelphia. In between, the Dodgers will play three games against Washington, which clinched the NL East on Sunday and trails the Dodgers by four games in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
By this point, the Dodgers can feel the heat. Roberts admitted on Saturday that he was watching the scoreboard to see how Arizona fared in San Diego. On Sunday morning, he received a visitor. Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager, came to offer his support.
“With what we’re going through,” Roberts said, “he just wanted to put his hand on my shoulder and say ‘I’ve been there. It’s going to be OK.’”
Platitudes carry only so much weight. As Roberts projected the upcoming game, he placed the onus on starting pitcher Rich Hill to “set the tone.” The game did not cooperate with Roberts’ wishes.
Hill walked the first batter of the game and yielded a run after a pair of well-placed singles. In the third, he gave up a solo homer to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Hill did not permit another run, but went only five innings.
“I obviously did not throw well,” Hill said. “That was extremely disappointing to me, to go out there and not have my best stuff.”
Despite his internal chastisement, Hill did not deserve all the blame. The lineup extended its lengthy slumber. In the first four innings, the Dodgers stranded seven runners against Colorado starter Tyler Chatwood. They went hitless on the day in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve all got to look at ourselves and say ‘What can we do to get better?’ ” Roberts said.
Into the breach stepped Buehler. He gave up a leadoff single and walked two batters. Roberts allowed him to face Reynolds with one out and the bases loaded. Reynolds crushed a 99-mph fastball over the center-field fence.
The extra runs felt like overkill. The Dodgers had already capitulated.
At this point, despite the preposterous skid, the players have not resorted to pointing fingers. Most understand they should gaze first upon a mirror.
Turner emphasized those points as he tried to prescribe a solution. Each member of the roster needed to look inside himself, to determine how he could contribute to a win on Monday. There was no need to forecast into the future, to ponder losing an opportunity for a historic season, to wonder about the World Series.
The time for dreaming was over.
“If we can try to simplify it and dumb it down, and try to, literally, win one pitch at a time — and then at the end of the day, you look up at the scoreboard and see where you’re at — I think that’s how you get good results,” Turner said.
Near Turner’s locker rested a small symbol: A giveaway trash can. The coming weeks will determine if this season belongs there.