Let’s start with a bold prediction. Hope springs eternal, after all, and it is still only March. So here goes: The Dodgers will score a run in 2018. They will probably win a game, too, but let’s start with something simple.
At some point, this offense assembled with essentially the same high-powered components from last year’s 104-win group will cobble together the necessary combination of hits or walks or errors required to bring a runner home.
You can bank on that. It will happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.
On Friday evening at Dodger Stadium, for the second time in as many games, the Dodgers experienced a 1-0 defeat to the San Francisco Giants. It might as well have been a carbon copy. They wasted a sterling effort from a starting pitcher. They looked baffled against the opposing starter. Giants second baseman Joe Panik provided the only run, this time with a solo homer off closer Kenley Jansen.
“Who cares?” Jansen remarked later in the evening, as a fireworks display entertained the crowd. He was talking about the velocity of his cutter, which was clocked at 89.6 mph on Panik’s homer. The sentiment applied beyond the speed of a pitch. These past 18 innings mean little in the grand scheme of a season. They were merely unpleasant to watch, and disquieting for a fan base still smarting over the ending to 2017.
“I’m sure everyone’s freaking out because we lost the first two,” said starter Alex Wood, who provided eight scoreless innings. “We have a great ball club. You have to keep the big picture in mind.”
A day after homering off Clayton Kershaw, Panik took Jansen deep to start the ninth inning. It was the second hit produced by the Giants all evening. Wood yielded only an infield single. His effort was not rewarded: The Dodgers responded with only one hit in seven innings against San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto. Save for a single by Chris Taylor, Cueto’s line was spotless.
After two days of baseball, the Dodgers are without a win, without a run and without even an extra-base hit. Manager Dave Roberts sounded more amused than bewildered. “We’ve got to go out there and get some hits,” he said.
The futility extended beyond the batter’s box. The Dodgers made four errors in the field, three of them by Logan Forsythe, who has replaced Justin Turner at third base while Turner recovers from a fractured wrist. None of the errors proved costly. They only added to the aesthetic ugliness of the affair. Roberts described it as a “night to forget” for Forsythe. It felt that way for every Dodger besides Wood.
Wood spent the spring sharpening a modified approach. He ditched the windup, preferring to pitch solely out of the stretch. At times, he demonstrated his form from the first half of 2017, when he went 10-0 and made an All-Star team.
On Friday, Wood retired the first nine hitters he faced. His offense offered no aid. A day after getting blanked by Ty Blach and a gaggle of relievers, the Dodgers faced Cueto, a pitcher actually known outside of Marin County. Cueto made an All-Star team in Cincinnati and won a World Series with Kansas City. His performance plummeted last season, but he did finish sixth in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2016.
Wood lost his chance at perfection in the fourth. Logan Forsythe scooped a grounder at third base but overthrew Cody Bellinger. Wood did not buckle. He received aid from Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who allowed his No. 2 hitter, second baseman Joe Panik, to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Handed the free out, Wood struck out McCutchen and got Posey to ground out.
Forsythe made another error in the fifth. He bobbled a one-out grounder and outfielder Hunter Pence beat the throw. The gaffe set the stage for the game’s first hit. Brandon Crawford, the Giants shortstop, chopped a curveball into the grass. The ball hopped beyond Wood’s reach. Crawford sprinted through the bag for an infield single.
The no-hit bid was gone. Wood still needed to protect the scoreless deadlock. He benefited from the next hitter. Cueto treats his at-bats like a nuisance. He grounded out to strand the runners.
On the mound, Cueto was far more formidable. He disarmed the left-handed hitters with changeups while fooling the right-handed hitters with sliders. Through five innings, only Corey Seager produced hard contact, lining out to right field in his first at-bat.
Through six innings, Cueto was pristine. As the Dodgers lineup turned over for a third time, at last Cueto relented. Taylor led off the seventh with a flare into right field. The stadium swelled with noise. The euphoria lasted two pitches. Seager bounced into a double play.
Shock registered in the ninth. Jansen threw a first-pitch cutter to Panik that registered at 88.2 mph. The next pitch was a touch faster, but still down the middle of the plate. Panik crushed it.
“He just got me,” Jansen said. “It was nothing mechanical. Who cares?”
The fans might care, Jansen was told.
“Who cares?” Jansen repeated. Indeed.