The nightmare unfolded like so many before it, like the games in April the Dodgers wasted when they thought they could charm their way into the playoffs, like the defeats they’ve absorbed this month as the reality of their season-long funk has taken hold: An opponent swatted a home run, a pitcher gawked in disbelief and the fans at Dodger Stadium hustled toward the exits, unwilling to watch another second of a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s definitely redundant,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s the same thing we’ve seen. But there’s no other choice but to keep going.”
The loss hung on the shoulders of Kenley Jansen. For the second time in three days, he permitted a tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning, this time a two-run shot to St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong. Jansen shuffled to the dugout, tossed his glove and settled onto the bench. His teammates offered a few pats on the backside, and little else.
Then again, the group had done very little all evening. The offense attempted an unorthodox solution to their woes with runners on base: just make outs. The lone salvo was a solo home run from Joc Pederson. The team provided only one hit otherwise. In the eighth inning, after the bullpen had already blown one lead, Manny Machado grounded out with the bases loaded and jogged to first base.
There was little reason to sprint: The Dodgers (67-61) may not be going anywhere. Swept by St. Louis, they ended the evening trailing Arizona by 4½ games in the National League West. The team has lost nine of its last 12 games.
“Things are just not clicking,” Jansen said. “In the ’pen, we need to figure that out. The position players need to figure it out. We all need to figure it out.”
On Wednesday they tarnished a gem from Walker Buehler. He set a career-high with nine strikeouts across seven innings as he lowered his ERA to 1.11 in his last five starts. He yielded three hits before bequeathing the game to the bullpen. The relievers let him down.
To protect the lead, Roberts trusted left-handed reliever Scott Alexander in the eighth. His night was spoiled by right-handed pinch-hitter Tyler O’Neill, who hit a shin-high sinker for a tying homer.
His team blanked by St. Louis rookie Jack Flaherty for five innings, Pederson delivered his team’s first hit of the game with a solo home run in the sixth inning. Flaherty struck out 10 Dodgers.
Roberts spent the majority of his pregame session discussing the various follies of his hitters in clutch situations. The Dodgers entered Wednesday ranked 23rd in on-base-plus-slugging percentage with runners on base (.728) and 20th in home runs (55). Roberts noted how often his players have been swinging through pitches down the middle.
The inconsistency, coupled with a bullpen breakdown earlier this month wrought by Jansen’s heart-related stint on the disabled list, has dumped the team into the middle of the pack in both the division and the wild-card race. They reside in fifth place in the two-team race for the one-game playoff.
The team did not have to fret about situational hitting early on Wednesday. They had enough trouble with hitting, in general.
The Dodgers struck out 12 times on Monday and 10 times on Tuesday. Flaherty subjected them to a similar fate Wednesday. Flaherty teamed at Harvard-Westlake High with future first-round picks Max Fried and Lucas Giolito. Flaherty was a first-round pick himself in 2014.
The Dodgers flailed away. Machado whiffed on a fastball in the fourth. Brian Dozier stared at a two-strike changeup down the middle in the fifth. Max Muncy dusted himself off after tumbling into the stands on a defensive try — only to swing over a slider for another fifth-inning strikeout.
A two-out walk by Yasmani Grandal in the fifth gave the Dodgers their second baserunner of the game. Up came Yasiel Puig, who struck out on a 3-2 slider and snapped his bat over his leg as he left the batter’s box.
“We really didn’t threaten,” Roberts said.
Pederson broke Flaherty’s spell with one out in the sixth. He did what his teammates could not: He punished Flaherty for a mistake. When Flaherty hung a slider, Pederson hammered it just beyond the right-field fence for home run No. 19 this season.
Buehler waded into trouble in the seventh. Jedd Gyorko smacked a leadoff double. He advanced to third on a groundout. With two outs, outfielder Harrison Bader blooped one into shallow left field. Machado backtracked and caught the ball. Buehler pumped his fist as he left the mound.
His pitch count sat at 104 after the inning. Roberts went to the bullpen. Buehler did not object.
“He makes the decisions, and I live with them,” Buehler said. “At the time, it doesn’t make you very happy, but I get it, certainly: 104 pitches. It’s kind of hard to send me back out there after 100.”
The relievers wrecked the final two innings. Alexander got stung by O’Neill in the eighth. Jansen could not produce the necessary movement on his cutter in the ninth.
Jansen opted against making excuses. It was only his second game back from his issues with his heart, and he had spent the morning at the hospital as his wife gave birth. The circumstances did not matter. Only his performance did. He understood no pity awaited the Dodgers.
“It sucks losing,” Jansen said. “It sucks going 4½ back. It sucks being in third place. But you’ve just got to be a man and deal with it, and step up Friday. We all need to step up.”