Dave Roberts crossed his arms and allowed himself to exhale. He was seated inside the visiting manager’s office at Great American Ball Park, the home of the Cincinnati Reds, the unlikeliest thorn in the side of the Dodgers in 2018.
“We can beat them,” he said.
He was being facetious — but only to a point. On the seventh try, the Dodgers managed to defeat the Reds, pounding out an 8-1 victory on Wednesday to avoid a season-long sweep by a last-place team. The afternoon presented all the elements that offer hope for this team, should they reach the playoffs. The offense ground opposing pitchers into dust. The bullpen held firm on a day without a bona fide starting pitcher.
A solo home run by Joc Pederson opened the scoring in the fourth. Justin Turner drove in three runs. Yasmani Grandal did the same. Yasiel Puig catalyzed a pair of rallies, and Pederson scored twice. Starting for the first time since Aug. 9, Ross Stripling logged 3 1/3 innings before handing the game over to the rest of the relief corps. He yielded a solo homer in the first inning but settled down from there.
“Every game matters right now,” Turner said. “To salvage today was huge for us.”
The victory prevented the Colorado Rockies from widening their lead in the National League West. The Dodgers reduced their deficit in the Wild Card race to two games behind St. Louis, the leader for the second spot in the play-in game
A collection of players gathered around the clubhouse television post-game to watch the Cardinals fall to Pittsburgh. The Dodgers could fortify their playoff position by leap-frogging St. Louis during a four-game series this weekend at Busch Stadium. The team will return home to start a three-game series with the Rockies on Monday.
“The way we’re seeing it is we’re going to take it one day at a time,” Grandal said. “It’s like a playoff game. Whatever we need to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Dodgers (79-67) could not replicate that atmosphere during the first two nights here. The games were sparsely attended and poorly played. There was little to be done about the attendance on Wednesday. But at least the offense showed up.
After losing six in a row to Cincinnati, Roberts appeared lost for answers for his team’s inability to solve the Reds — just as he was unable to explain his offense’s inconsistency.
Since taking over as manager in 2016, Roberts has sought to integrate the philosophical suggestions from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. They built a culture centered on the concept of sacrifice in pursuit of a common goal. That culture is easier to sustain when you’re running away with a division title.
“When things aren’t going well, you can look a lot of different things,” Pederson said. “There’s no one thing that works it out, which is going to be a quick fix. So I don’t know.”
As the losses have mounted, Roberts has come under fire for daily manipulations to the lineup. The batting order is an amorphous thing, shifting based on the handedness and predilections of the opposing pitcher. The different lineups are unlikely to change, even as the offense struggles.
“It’s something I believe in,” Roberts said. “Our players have to accept it. Because this is the way it’s got to be with our roster.”
Outside of Max Muncy, who has lost at-bats because of his defensive limitations, the hitters placed in platoons have earned their part-time status. Cody Bellinger has posted a .698 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers in 2018. Chris Taylor has struck out in 33.3% of his at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Puig has struggled against left-handers for the last two seasons, and Pederson has never hit left-handers. Matt Kemp owns a .636 OPS since making the All-Star team.
For the Dodgers, rare is the player like Turner, who can hit right-handers and left-handers.
“That’s the thing — when you don’t have eight Justin Turners, that’s what happens,” Roberts said. “This is the way I feel gives us the best chance to win.”
Wednesday did not begin well for Stripling. He gave up a leadoff walk to former Dodger Scott Schebler, who was thrown out trying to steal second base. Jose Peraza, another former Dodger, boomed a solo home run. Joey Votto added another single.
Stripling recovered from the opening salvo. He made it through three innings without permitting another run. He pitched around a leadoff double in the third and struck out Votto to strand a runner at third base.
“When it goes like that, you’ve just got to bear down and get guys out,” Stripling said. “Luckily, I was able to limit the damage to one.”
The offense was meek before Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani through three innings. He put down the first nine batters he faced. The tide turned with the first at-bat of the fourth. Pederson demolished a 96-mph fastball for a solo shot. A two-out single by Muncy set up Yasmani Grandal.
Grandal crushed a 2-2 curveball. The pitch zoomed toward the right-field fence. As it approached, a boy reached over the partition and nabbed the baseball. The umpires awarded Grandal a double, but ruled Muncy would have scored before the young fan’s interference. The hit gave the Dodgers their first lead of this series.
The lineup tacked on four more in the fifth. Yasiel Puig led off with a walk. Joc Pederson flicked a 1-2 fastball down the left-field line for a double. Both runners scored when Turner splashed a single in center field. Pederson slid in safely just before being crunched by Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.
“That was huge,” Pederson said. “We don’t need to rely on the long ball.”
Cincinnati unraveled soon after. When DeSclafani walked Muncy, Reds manager Jim Riggleman tried reliever Wandy Peralta. Grandal greeted him with an RBI single. A grounder from Bellinger rolled beneath the glove of second baseman Scooter Gennett to bring home a fourth run in the inning.
The flood continued into the sixth. Puig sparked the group again with a leadoff double. After David Freese came off the bench to walk, Turner thumped an RBI double. Grandal contributed his second run-scoring single in as many innings.