Dodgers seek to end slump, and maybe the Cincinnati Reds can help
Three years ago, the Dodgers were in an even worse late-season slump than the one now.
In an attempt to change the atmosphere in the clubhouse, they canceled batting practice and played make-believe.
Smiles appeared as the players started throwing an imaginary baseball around the infield. The smiles turned to laughs when Adrian Gonzalez pretended to make an error. Everyone seemed loose.
“It didn’t work,” Andre Ethier recalled.
Later that day, the Dodgers lost. They went on to miss the playoffs.
So what is a team supposed to do when it can’t win a game?
The Dodgers enter their series opener against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday in the midst of a season-high five-game losing streak. Their lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West is down to 1 1/2 games.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a World Series champion with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, recently called on his teammates to remain calm. The next day, Clayton Kershaw advocated they play with a greater sense of urgency.
There is no clear-cut answer in baseball, where streaks — whether positive or negative — can have a supernatural feel to them. With the line between failed execution and bad luck frequently blurred, the source of a losing streak can be hard to identify.
During a recently completed three-game series in Houston, Manager Don Mattingly made a remark about the team’s energy. Asked to elaborate, Mattingly made clear that he didn’t mean the Dodgers went into games lacking energy. Rather, he was saying that a shortage of baserunners created a negative vibe.
“The only way, basically, to get out of it is put some runs on the board,” he said.
And you do that by …?
Start by doing nothing out of the ordinary, Ethier said.
“You can’t take extra chances just because you’re not scoring,” Ethier said. “If you start to do things out of character, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”
Pregame meetings are a long-standing slump-busting tradition in the sport, and at least some of the Dodgers resorted to that last week. The team’s relievers spoke in a group Wednesday, only for their problems to continue that night.
Mattingly has tried altering his suddenly impotent lineup, with the most significant change coming in center field. He has replaced Joc Pederson with hot-hitting utility man Enrique Hernandez. Yet runs have remained scarce.
Slumping players are working with coaches on mechanical adjustments. Recently acquired starting pitcher Mat Latos, whose turn in the rotation will be skipped for the second time this week, has been throwing in the bullpen with the pitching coaches by his side. Mattingly has talked recently about Pederson and Yasiel Puig attempting to rediscover their swings in the batting cages.
The Dodgers didn’t play Monday, and catcher A.J. Ellis wondered aloud if that could help.
“Take a day of not looking at each other,” Ellis said. “Sometimes, that’s a good thing to do.”
Or sometimes all it takes is a break in the opposition. With the Reds’ rotation consisting entirely of rookies, the Dodgers won three of four games against them in Los Angeles earlier this month.
This week, the Dodgers are scheduled to face the same three pitchers they beat at Dodger Stadium — John Lamb (6.35 earned-run average), David Holmberg (6.57 ERA) and Anthony DeSclafani (3.97). The Dodgers’ offense will have the added benefit of batting in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
Ethier recently thought back to the 2008 season, when the Dodgers went on an eight-game losing streak in late August that dropped them 4 1/2 games out of first place. That streak was immediately followed by an eight-game winning streak that moved them into the lead.
The Dodgers reached the NL Championship Series that year.
Ethier said the key to the turnaround was confidence. He believes the current Dodgers also have that.
“Just remembering you really are a good team,” he said.
Ellis had similar thoughts.
“You’re in the midst of a streak like this, it’s easy to let the negative outweigh the possibility of the positive,” he said. “We need to find a way to keep the energy up, keep the positive thoughts going.”
Left-hander Alex Wood (8-8, 3.79 ERA) will face left-hander Lamb (0-1) and the Reds at 4 p.m. PDT at Great American. TV: SportsNet LA; Radio: 570, 1020.
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