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Dodgers shake off offensive slumber to beat the Cubs

Los Angeles Times writer Jorge Castillo and columnist Dylan Hernandez break down where the Dodgers are and what they need to do at the trade deadline to improve their World Series chances.

When David Freese stepped into the batter’s box to face Jon Lester in the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, the signs of life from the Dodgers’ offense were faint.

Lester had limited the Dodgers to one hit through 31/3 innings, extending their difficulty to produce runs in June, and an end to the struggles did not appear imminent in their first game since losing Corey Seager, their hottest hitter, to a hamstring injury.

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But a pulse remained. And all it took was eight pitches for the Dodgers to awaken from their unusual slumber and assemble a reminder they possess firepower that few other teams have. It started with a single from Freese. Two pitches later, Cody Bellinger belted a two-run home run to the opposite field. Three pitchers after that, Chris Taylor, Seager’s replacement at shortstop, singled and Max Muncy whacked the next pitch over the wall in center field for the inning’s second two-run home run.

The barrage erased the Dodgers’ three-run deficit and gave them the lead. Freese added a third two-run home run off Lester in the fifth inning for insurance en route to a 7-3 win over the Chicago Cubs.

“Just, collectively,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “it’s really nice to see.”

Scoring runs in June had been more of an issue than usual before Thursday. In 10 games, the Dodgers (46-23) had been held to three or fewer runs six times.

In their two-game series loss to the Angels, they left 22 runners on base and went four for 25 with runners in scoring position. Each of their four home runs in the series was without a runner on base. As a result, they were on the brink of their first three-game losing streak since mid-April.

While the Dodgers were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position Thursday, they struck at the right time, starting with Bellinger hitting his first of two home runs. They were his first since May 28, a span of 12 games.

“I felt alright,” Bellinger said. “I didn’t feel great. It's the game, though. It’s going to happen. It’ll probably happen again. Just a lot of work in the cage and trying to get back to where I was.”

The revival came in support of Clayton Kershaw, who stumbled out of the block.

The first pitch Kershaw threw Thursday was a 90-mph fastball to Kyle Schwarber. It went just above Schwarber’s knees, out over the plate, and Schwarber swatted it over the fence to center field to give the Cubs (38-29) a swift lead. Willson Contreras doubled the margin with an RBI single later in the inning. The gap widened to three runs when Kris Bryant smashed a fastball the other way for his 14th home run in the third inning.

But while Lester faltered later game, Kershaw improved. He didn’t surrender another run over his six innings. He allowed seven hits, walked two, and struck out eight.

Julio Urias relieved Kershaw and finished the game for his second three-inning save this season.

“The first inning was tough, obviously, and then just trying to keep it there the best you can,” Kershaw said.

Lester did not have trouble over the first three frames. He allowed one baserunner — Austin Barnes singled in the second — during the stretch on 49 pitches.

The Dodgers were overmatched the first time through the lineup as they encountered difficulty with Lester’s cut fastball. After that, the Dodgers pounced.

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Muncy’s two-run shot was his fourth homer in 12 at-bats. Freese’s two-run blast was his eighth homer in 122 plate appearances in a bench role he has thrived in since Los Angeles acquired him last September. They combined to knock Lester out after five innings.

“It’s up to us to make the adjustment,” Muncy said, “and it’s definitely something we talked about.”

Bellinger supplied the final blow: a solo home run off left-hander Tim Collins in the seventh inning just inside the right-field foul pole for his ninth career multihome-run game. Bellinger trotted around the bases with his typical swagger. His chain bounced off his chest. He flexed his right bicep to his dugout as he approached third base. The Dodgers’ bats were alive again.

“I guess we’re good at bouncing back,” Bellinger said.

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