For a team that could get swept by the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, the Dodgers were in a pretty chipper mood Saturday.
For one thing, they ran into a starting pitcher throwing 100 mph in the late innings and the late-afternoon shadows, and not much you can do about that. For another, they put a wrap on a month in which they asserted themselves as a championship contender.
They lost Saturday, but they won 17 of 26 games in June, their first winning month this season. They hit more home runs in June than they had hit in any month, in any year, in franchise history.
“I think that our best days are still ahead of us,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Yet, the Dodgers ended the month almost exactly where they started it. On the first day of June, they awoke four games out of first place in the National League West. On the final day of June, they went to sleep 31/2 games out of first.
They upgraded their rotation in June by activating Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda from the disabled list. They could upgrade their bullpen in July by trades, but also by activating Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani and Pedro Baez.
“Once everybody comes back off the DL and everybody is healthy,” Enrique Hernandez said, “I think we’re going to be the team to beat again.”
The Dodgers’ 3-1 loss Saturday left them 31/2 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are the only NL team that posted a better June record than the Dodgers.
But Saturday’s loss also served to remind the Dodgers that the race toward a sixth consecutive NL West title might not be a runaway. The Rockies might have led the division one month ago and fallen into fourth place now, but the Dodgers are closer to Colorado than Arizona in the standings.
And, after the Dodgers lost their third consecutive game, they slipped back into a tie for second place, with the supposedly old and fragile San Francisco Giants.
On Saturday, the Dodgers’ primary problem answered to the name of German Andres Marquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan right-hander.
Marquez (6-8) stopped the Dodgers on two hits over eight innings, throwing in the mid-90s all game and as hard as 100 mph in his eighth and final inning.
“We knew he had a good arm,” Roberts said. “I didn’t know 100 was in there.”
Marquez carried a perfect game into the fifth inning. Hernandez broke it up with a home run, and Chase Utley followed with a single, and then Marquez retired the final nine batters he faced in order.
“Late in the game, the shadows started creeping in,” Hernandez said. “He already was tough enough when you could see the ball.”
Adam Ottavino worked the ninth for the save, amid some drama. With two out, Max Muncy singled, bringing Justin Turner to the plate representing the tying run. Turner flied out.
Yasmani Grandal, the Dodgers catcher, saved one run on defense and gave away another.
In the seventh inning, when Marquez dropped a would-be squeeze bunt, Grandal hustled out from behind the plate to snare the ball, then whirled and dove to tag Gerardo Parra before he could touch home.
In the third inning of a scoreless game, the Rockies had a man on third base and one out, and starter Kenta Maeda struck out Nolan Arenado. Yet, Grandal, who led the NL in passed balls in each of the last two seasons, didn’t catch the third strike.
The run scored on the passed ball and Arenado reached base. The Rockies did not score again in the inning, but the passed ball meant Maeda needed an extra 14 pitches to finish the inning.
On his second pitch of the next inning, Maeda gave up a home run to Ian Desmond.
In all, Maeda (5-5) gave up three runs — two earned — in seven innings. He walked two batters and struck out nine.
Marquez struck out nine, without walking anyone. In the first two games of this series, the Dodgers have struck out 20 times and walked once. Their only at-bat with a runner in scoring position came as a result of defensive indifference in the ninth inning Saturday, and their only runs came on solo home runs.
“It’s tough to live by the long ball,” Roberts said. “When you run into good pitching and you can’t or don’t take a walk, and you can’t find a way … to manufacture and keep the line moving, it’s tough.”
That could be a particular problem come October, against the likes of Max Scherzer or Jon Lester. But the Dodgers have to get to October first, and they’re feeling better about their chances.
“We’re really happy where we’re at right now,” Hernandez said. “Count out the last two games, and we’re playing the best baseball in the whole league. We like where we are.”
In the immediate aftermath of being on the wrong end of a three-hitter, that might sound odd. To a team that spent almost all of April and May submerged under .500, it sounds pretty reasonable, and optimistic.
“I think we felt fine even when we were struggling,” Cody Bellinger said. “Now that we’re actually winning games, and hitting and pitching, we feel even better.”