For a week and a half, the Dodgers accumulated astounding offensive feats and streaks and records not seen in years, if not decades, if not ever. They collected them against three National League West opponents, a trio not expected to threaten them for division supremacy or contend for a championship. They were flying high.
Over the last three nights at Busch Stadium, however, the competition stiffened, the reality of their 162-game traipse landed with a thud, and two different kinds of streaks developed.
For 18 straight innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, from the sixth inning Monday until the sixth inning Wednesday, the Dodgers didn’t score a run. The drought finally ended when Joc Pederson muscled a solo home run off Jack Flaherty. The breakthrough wasn’t enough to break a losing streak that reached three games with a 7-2 loss.
The Dodgers (8-5) arrived in Missouri for the four-game series with 24 home runs from 10 different players in 10 games. They owned a league-leading plus-36 run differential. The 84 runs in their first 10 games ranked third all-time. After three nights opposite the Cardinals, they’ve amassed 27 strikeouts and been outscored 15-5.
On Monday, the Dodgers pounced early, tapered off, and let a lead slip away in the sixth inning. On Tuesday, they didn’t capitalize on a few quality scoring chances, left the bases loaded twice, and stranded 13 runners on base. On Wednesday, the opportunities didn’t develop, partly because of some bad luck and partly because Flaherty, an emerging 23-year-old star, was difficult to solve. A Harvard-Westlake High product, Flaherty gave up one run on three hits in six innings. He struck out eight without a walk.
“I think that you got to give these guys credit, those pitchers,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They’re making pitches when they need to. They’re getting the strikeout or the soft contact. Getting out of trouble.”
The Cardinals (7-5) seized the lead against Kenta Maeda in the second inning. Marcell Ozuna led off with a scorched double, stole third base, and scored on Yadier Molina’s groundout. The gap was doubled in the fourth when Dexter Fowler floated a two-out single to shallow right field. The poke was enough to score Paul DeJong.
Besides those sequences, Maeda was effective. The right-hander was also efficient. He held the Cardinals to the two runs on four hits through five innings with 69 pitches. There were no obvious signs of looming trouble. The crash arrived abruptly in the sixth after Pederson’s breakthrough. It started with Paul Goldschmidt landing a bloop single in front of a diving Chris Taylor in center field. Next, DeJong lofted a fly ball down the left-field line. Pederson sprinted over and decided to take a chance, diving for the ball. He didn’t reach it and the ball rolled to the wall. DeJong ended up at third with an RBI triple.
Two batters later, Molina continued his destruction of the Dodgers after collecting two run-scoring doubles Tuesday, cracking a first-pitch hanging slider for a two-run home run just over the wall in left field.
“I was able to get by up until the sixth inning,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “My stuff just wasn’t there.”
The homers stretched the Cardinals’ lead to four and prompted Maeda’s exit. He ultimately couldn’t keep up with Flaherty. The Dodgers were able to inflate Flaherty’s pitch count early, thanks in large part to Justin Turner’s 14-pitch at-bat in the first inning. But Turner’s effort ended with an inning-ending double play and Flaherty settled down.
The right-hander didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until Pederson, who had smashed line drives in his first two at-bats and had only a single to show for it, drove a 96 mph fastball into the Cardinals’ bullpen in the sixth to slice the Dodgers’ deficit in half. After beginning the season with home runs in 10 consecutive games, Pederson’s homer was the Dodgers’ first since Sunday against the Colorado Rockies. Max Muncy added another solo shot in the seventh inning, going to the opposite field against left-hander Tyler Webb.
Ozuna supplied another Cardinals response, slashing a hanging slider from right-hander JT Chargois 110 mph off the left-field foul pole for a two-run home run in the eighth inning. He pounded his chest and yelled into the Cardinals’ dugout as he trotted down the first base line. The Cardinals were alive. The Dodgers, while no longer dormant, couldn’t match again.
“You just have to trust yourself,” Pederson said. “It’s obviously frustrating when things aren’t going your way and you’re hitting balls hard and they say it’s going to equal out. You just got to stick to the process and, over 162, hopefully, the results are there.”