The loss transformed into a farce as the baseball rolled between Cody Bellinger’s legs. By the eighth inning of a 14-0 defeat Saturday, the Dodgers had already been roughed up by the Houston Astros. Kenta Maeda collapsed as the visitors strung together four runs in the sixth. The offense sputtered for the second night in a row. And new arrival John Axford had already let five consecutive batters reach base.
Then a grounder bounced toward first base. Bellinger bent to retrieve it, only to come up empty. The crowd at Dodger Stadium groaned. A run scored. A thrashing by the World Series champions was official. The defeat returned first place in the National League West to Arizona.
Axford departed soon after, but it got only worse: Former Dodger Josh Reddick bashed a three-run homer against Zac Rosscup to conclude a seven-run rally. The lone pitcher added to the roster at the trade deadline, Axford finished with six runs charged to his ledger in his debut. He recorded precisely one out. Not to be outdone, Rosscup gave up another homer, this one a two-run blast by Jake Marisnick.
“It got ugly really quickly,” manager Dave Roberts said. “To try to find a silver lining tonight, it ain’t going to happen. The game’s over — I guess that’s the silver lining.”
By the time the relievers arrived, the game was already likely out of reach. Maeda pitched well for five innings before capsizing. He gave up five runs in 51/3 innings.
A night after getting squashed by Astros ace Justin Verlander, the Dodgers had no answer for the rest of Houston’s pitching staff. Lance McCullers Jr. spun four innings before departing with an arm injury. The Dodgers had only three hits. The excess of Thursday, when they scored 21 runs against Milwaukee, felt like a distant memory.
The first night of the World Series rematch tilted toward the Astros. Verlander struck out 14 Dodgers and suppressed their offense. Alex Wood gave up two runs in six solid innings, but still wore the loss. A night later, a familiar script played out, only with a less than stellar final act from the starting pitcher, and a disastrous showing from the bullpen.
“Not the best way to start,” Axford said.
Maeda played a prominent part in the World Series. But he operated exclusively as a reliever, a role he may reprise this October. For now, the Dodgers are leaning on Maeda as part of their rotation. His uptick as a starter has been buoyed by his improved deployment of a changeup.
The changeup stayed in Maeda’s pocket when utility man Marwin Gonzalez led off the second inning. Gonzalez never let Maeda use the pitch. When Maeda flung a first-pitch fastball, Gonzalez smashed it over the center-field fence to spot McCullers a lead.
No starter in baseball throws curveballs more often than McCullers, a right-handed pitcher who has been far more effective against left-handed hitters this season. McCullers struck out Bellinger in five consecutive at-bats last October. Given Bellinger’s history and Max Muncy’s recent funk, the Dodgers used Enrique Hernandez at first base to start the game.
Muncy was the most reliable hitter in the Dodgers offense during the first half. His production has shrunk as pitchers across the sport have located holes in his swing and lured him out of the strike zone. Muncy has hit .163 with a .624 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the second half. The lack of discipline, which was Muncy’s calling card during his breakout start, worried Roberts.
“When I see a guy going out of the strike zone, that’s a little disconcerting,” Roberts said.
McCullers had that effect on most of the Dodgers on Saturday. He struck out five in four innings. But McCullers exited with discomfort in his elbow while warming up for the fifth inning. Astros manager A.J. Hinch chose Brad Peacock as his first man out of the bullpen.
Peacock fanned Yasiel Puig and Hernandez with sliders. Austin Barnes took a low, 3-and-2 fastball only to see umpire D.J. Reyburn call him out.
Maeda was tasked with getting through the top of Houston’s order for a third time when the sixth inning began. Up to that point, he had been tremendous, punished only by Gonzalez in the second inning. Maeda had struck out four and scattered two other singles.
He was less fortunate in the sixth. Reddick doubled on a 92-mph fastball. Maeda walked shortstop Alex Bregman. Up came Yuli Gurriel. Facing Maeda, Gurriel fouled off the first two pitches he saw. Maeda tried a slider. The pitch split the plate. Gurriel smoked it down the third base line, past the glove of Justin Turner, for a two-run double.