Column: Did you think the Dodgers were suddenly a changed team just because the playoffs started?
Manny Machado didn’t smile or scowl. He slipped on a yellow designer shirt and nonchalantly shrugged.
“It’s a baseball game,” he said.
Machado is 26 and already a millionaire several times over. He has made four All-Star teams and is in line to sign a nine-figure deal on the free-agent market this winter. He’s not about to change.
And when the Dodgers’ mercenary shortstop is in the batter’s box, he will attack, especially if he’s in a hitter’s count. Some nights, as was the case in the previous game, he will go after a pitch others wouldn’t dare chase and blast the baseball into the stands. Then there are nights like Sunday, when he struck out twice with runners in scoring position and was hitless in his four-at-bats in a 6-5 defeat to the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
“It happens,” he said.
Ddogers Brian Dozier walks off the field after striking out against the Braves with two men on base to end the game.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Ddogers Brian Dozier walks off the field after striking out against the Braves with two men in base to end the game.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Matt Kemp is tagged out by Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki in the 6th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Max Muncy strikes out against the Braves in the 9th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Braves Freddie Freeman celebrates his solo home run against the Dodgers in the 6th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Alex Wood comes out of the game after giving up the go-ahead run to the Braves in the 6th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Alex Wood sits in the dugout after giving up the go-ahead run to the Braves in the 6th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Ddogers Cody Bellinger drops the ball for an error in the 2nd inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Braves Nick Markakis beats the tag of Dodgers Justin Turner on an error by Cody Bellinger.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb walks with the bases loaded to score the first run against the Dodgers in the second inning in Game 3 of the NLDS at SunTrust Park in Atlanta on Sunday.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Cody Bellinger makes an acrobatic catch off the bat of Braves Ozzie Albies in the 4th inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Justin Turner is forced out at 2nd base by Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler can only watch as Ronald Acuna Jr. hits a grand slam in the second inning on Sunday.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers Chris Taylor can only watch as Ronald Acuna Jr. hits a grand slam in the 2nd inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws on his day off before Game 3.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
This is who he is. And, really, it’s also who the Dodgers are, save for Justin Turner. All or nothing. Score via the home run or don’t score at all. Like Machado, they won’t change. Or, in their case, maybe they can’t.
What, did you think the Dodgers were suddenly a changed team just because the playoffs started?
They couldn’t manufacture runs in the regular season. What made you think they were capable of doing that now?
The Dodgers didn’t drop Game 3 because of Walker Buehler. The five-run deficit resulting from Buehler’s rookie moment was erased entirely by the fifth inning.
They lost because they couldn’t break a 5-5 stalemate or reverse a 6-5 deficit, the byproduct of finishing the game one for nine with runners in scoring position.
“We played great today,” Machado said. “We did what we needed to do. We came back from a 5-0 deficit. That’s how we’re going to take it.”
Whether Machado’s lackadaisical mentality is a problem will be determined by how the postseason unfolds. Manny Ramirez was similarly carefree when he played here 10 years ago and it seemed to help him quickly recover from disappointments.
Machado wasn’t alone in his thinking. Others also pointed to how they came back and credited Braves pitchers for their inability to collect hits with runners in scoring position.
Down 5-0 after the second inning, the Dodgers scored their first run on a single by Justin Turner and their second on an error made by Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. on the same play. Max Muncy walked in the next at-bat, advancing Turner to second base. Machado worked a 3-1 count against reliever Kevin Gausman, only to strike out after chasing two borderline strikes. The inning was over.
The Dodgers leveled the score, 5-5, in the fifth inning, after a two-run blast by Chris Taylor and a solo home run by Muncy.
They had a chance to move ahead in the sixth inning, which Matt Kemp led off with a double to left-center field. Cody Bellinger made a productive out, moving Kemp to third base on a groundout to third base. But Kemp was thrown out at the plate when Enrique Hernandez could muster only a weak dribbler to shortstop Charlie Culberson. Hernandez reached base on a fielder’s choice, after which Yasmani Grandal and pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig drew consecutive walks to load the bases with two outs. Taylor was facing a rookie reliever in Touki Toussaint, only to fail to take advantage of the situation. He grounded out to third base to end the threat.
“Obviously, I would like that back,” Taylor said. “I think I chased a ball that was in off the plate. It had a lot of run on it. But he’s here for a reason. I think he’s one of their top prospects.”
Joc Pederson pinch hit for Taylor in the ninth inning and led off with a single that capped a 10-pitch at-bat against Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino. Turner followed with a seven-pitch walk.
With two on and no outs, Muncy got ahead in the count, 3-0, but struck out.
“He made a really good 3-0 pitch right on the corner,” Muncy said. “The next two were right on the outside corner, borderline maybe called a strike, maybe not. You can’t really tell. He just made really good pitches. He didn’t leave anything over the plate.”
Machado and Brian Dozier also struck out. The game was over. The Dodgers’ advantage in the best-of-five series was down to two-games-to-one.
And so the Dodgers were defeated in familiar fashion. When they lost in the regular season, they often lost like this.
The problem didn’t disappear in the first two games of this series as much as it was pushed into the background by Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw. The starting pitchers throwing seven or eight scoreless innings has a way of covering up a team’s offensive shortcomings.
But the Dodgers didn’t get that Sunday and the old problem returned. And if there are more nights on which they don’t get that, well, as Machado said, it happens. This is who they are.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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