To all those anxiously awaiting the Dodgers’ glorious return from New England this weekend to host the World Series at Chavez Ravine, a word of warning.
Squint hard. You may not recognize them.
Their powerful bats are the consistency of chowder. Their vaunted starting pitching is draped in an early frost. And so far, their strategy hasn’t been worth beans.
That was some week in Boston, huh? It began with a Fenway Park chant of “Beat L.A.” and ended with the same chant, only louder, because that’s exactly what the Red Sox are doing, only worse.
For a second consecutive night, amid cold weather and a chilly reception Wednesday, the Dodgers blew it in the middle innings, collapsed in the late innings, and were basically suffocated by a Red Sox team that has wrapped around them like a woolen scarf.
Boston won Game 2 of the World Series, 4-2, meaning the Dodgers will come home for Game 3 Friday in their most dire situation in a season full of them.
They trail in the series, two games to none. They trail in reality, two games to ohhhh-noooo.
Going by history, they have but a 19% chance to survive this type of deficit. They must win all three games at Dodger Stadium this weekend — if three games are even necessary — to have any sort of reasonable chance. Their opportunity to win their first World Series championship in 30 years seems increasingly as distant as 1988.
But first things first. If they want to pull this off, they have to start simple on Friday at Dodger Stadium with boy wonder Walker Buehler on the mound, rowdy crowd, nine strong innings, a must-win of all must-wins, because nobody has ever recovered from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a World Series.
The Red Sox have them so cornered, no Dodger dares to think about anything beyond this next game.
“We’re heading home, we’ve got to jump on them, fans have got to be rowdy, get after it, score first, play ‘D,’ lock them down,” David Freese said. “We understand Game 3 is a necessity. We need it to be 2-1.”
They’re trying to stay calm. But the Red Sox have clearly dented their swagger. The Red Sox have done everything the Dodgers thought they would do. And the Red Sox have done it better.
“They didn’t win 108 games by accident,” Freese said.
Start with the bats. The Red Sox were grinders. They scored all four runs with two outs, and have scored nine of 12 runs in this series with two outs.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Yasiel Puig’s single, but then didn’t get another hit the rest of the game, ending it with 16 consecutive outs against four Red Sox pitchers led by starter and winner David Price.
The Dodgers are batting .175 so far in this series with just one extra-base hit. But you know what stat is more startling?
Their three top home-run hitters — Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson — have combined for just nine at-bats in two games.
They can’t hit home runs if they don’t play, and they didn’t start in either game for matchup reasons, and right now, that just seems weird.
The club’s analytics-based strategy, which worked so brilliantly during the regular season and through two playoff rounds, is failing them now.
At some point, don’t the Dodgers have to ignore the numbers and look at the reality that, if they want to outscore the team that has scored more runs than anybody else in baseball, they need their biggest sluggers on the field at all times? You want math? Isn’t that the simplest of math?
“Yeah, it’s hard to have guys that slug like Pederson, Muncy, Bellinger on the bench, but this is something we’ve done a lot in September and throughout the postseason and it’s proved to be successful,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And those guys are still getting in games and staying current.”
Well, sort of. Bellinger and Pederson didn’t bat Wednesday until the eighth inning. Muncy didn’t bat until the seventh inning. All three looked out of rhythm, and all three were retired, two by strikeouts.
Then there’s the starting pitching, with Hyun-Jin Ryu wearing down against the relentless Boston bats on Wednesday just like Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, giving up four runs in 42/3 innings and, so far, the Dodger starters have allowed nine runs in 82/3 innings.
Ryu said he felt fine, he wasn’t tired, he was just, well ...
“I think all the players are happy about going back to L.A.,” he said. “I think all the players will be able to focus more.”
Fans are surely hoping that focus extends to Roberts who, for a second consecutive night, made a questionable pitching change. After the Red Sox had loaded the bases against Ryu in the fifth inning on two singles and a walk, Roberts came to the mound with the hook, which made sense. But he brought in Ryan Madson, which did not.
Madson has had a great postseason. But a day earlier he was on the mound when the Red Sox scored the game’s two deciding runs in the fifth inning on a walk, an RBI groundout and an RBI single. And entering this game, the 38-year-old, who had a lousy regular season for the Washington Nationals and Dodgers, had pitched in eight of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games.
What happened next was unsettlingly similar to what happened when Roberts summoned Alex Wood to replace a hot Pedro Baez in Game 1. Madson walked Steve Pearce to score the tying run, then allowed a flare single to J.D. Martinez to score two more to give the Red Sox the only edge they would need.
“In that spot he’s done it time and time again for us, but the last couple of nights it hasn’t worked out,” Roberts said of Madson.
I would have rather seen Pedro Baez there. I would have rather seen Kenta Maeda there. I would have rather seen almost anybody but Wood there.
Whatever, it’s back to Los Angeles, with the Dodgers’ backs surgically attached to that proverbial wall. Just in case they needed a reminder of their situation, when Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts threw out Matt Kemp to end Wednesday’s game, Bogaerts kicked his leg high as if booting the Dodgers out of Fenway, down the road and nearly out of this World Series.