For the first 149 days of the season, a five-month stretch of baseball that featured 91 victories accrued in a seemingly endless string of walkoffs, comebacks and trouncings, the Dodgers avoided the sort of losing streak that befalls all teams.
In the course of the 162-game season, lineups go cold and defenders make mistakes. Starting pitchers get rocked and relievers implode. Teams lose four games in a row. Heading into Wednesday, every team in the majors but one had done so in 2017.
By absorbing a 6-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers joined the other 29 clubs by dropping their fourth game in a row for the first time this year. The team has lost back-to-back series for the first time since April.
For weeks, the chatter around the Dodgers (91-40) focused on history, on their pace to match the 116 victories produced by the 2001 Seattle Mariners. The discussion has now become more conventional: When will this losing streak end?
“Up to this point, we’ve played very good baseball, and had guys step up to be the stopper,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Whether it’s at two games or three games or even at one game. This is uncharted territory for us this year, for this ballclub.”
Roberts diagnosed the problem without much complexity: It is hard to beat the Diamondbacks when you spot them six runs. Arizona pummeled Hyun-Jin Ryu for six in four innings on Wednesday. He surrendered three home runs. He lost a decision for the first time since June 5.
The return of rookie All-Star Cody Bellinger was not enough to resuscitate the offense. Arizona starter Robbie Ray quieted the Dodgers for 62/3 innings.
Curtis Granderson broke the silence in the seventh with a solo homer. The offense mounted a three-run rally in the eighth, but left the bases loaded against reliever Archie Bradley. The early hole was too big to escape.
Ryu and Rich Hill got pounded at Chase Field. It was not pretty. But it also provided perspective on this team’s torrid summer: It took this long for the Dodgers to look so normal.
In the afternoon, the Dodgers activated their most prodigious slugger. Bellinger sprained his ankle making a catch on the warning track on Aug. 19 in Detroit.
Bellinger tested the joint during a rookie-level Arizona League game on Tuesday. He bashed a three-run homer, added a sacrifice fly and pronounced himself “100%” healthy on Wednesday afternoon. He was chafing to rejoin the lineup.
“It’s a little boring, it really is, watching a few games in a row,” Bellinger said.
Bellinger came to the plate in the top of the second. By then, his team already trailed by three runs. Arizona blitzed Ryu in the first.
In his first six starts after the All-Star break, Ryu compiled a 1.54 earned-run average. The performance was admirable, as Ryu remained strong after pitching in only one game in 2015 and 2016. It also reflected the level of competition: Ryu threw seven scoreless innings against a collection of New York Mets also-rans, spun five scoreless against a tanking Tigers team, and limited the pop-gun offense of the Pittsburgh Pirates to one run in six innings.
Arizona presented a more formidable challenge. The Diamondbacks taxed Hill for six runs in 32/3 innings on Tuesday. They treated Ryu with similar cruelty on Wednesday.
The fourth pitch Ryu threw was a 70-mph curveball. The arc of its descent ended at the waist of Diamondbacks utility infielder Adam Rosales, who drove the baseball to center field and connected with the batter’s eye, just above the yellow line demarcating a home run. The umpires conferred before allowing Rosales to trot home.
There was no discussion needed for the next homer. Unable to fool outfielder A.J. Pollock with changeups, Ryu issued a walk. Up next was All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Ryu fired an 89-mph fastball down the middle. Goldschmidt unleashed a thunderous two-run shot into the seats in left field.
“They made him pay for some mistakes,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said.
From there, Ryu received a reprieve until the third. A two-out walk to outfielder J.D. Martinez hurt Ryu’s cause. The next batter, second baseman Brandon Drury, unloaded on an elevated changeup. At the wall in center field, converted infielder Chris Taylor rose to meet the baseball. He mistimed the leap, leading to an RBI double.
The fourth inning was Ryu’s last. Arizona did not make it easy on him. A solo shot soared over his head after he fed catcher Chris Hermann a 90-mph fastball. The pitch hovered around Hermann’s belt, and he did not miss.
“They were barreling the ball, and they kept getting extra bases,” Ryu said.
Ryu did not need to feel insulted. Ray did not care. He followed Hermann’s homer with a single into center field. After two more singles, Ray strolled home for his team’s sixth run, which proved a large enough cushion to ensure the Dodgers’ fourth loss in a row.
“You always want to win baseball games,” Roberts said. “Obviously, we’d rather take it now, rather than after September.”