The Dodgers’ sprouting defensive conundrum could perhaps be best illustrated with a sequence in the fifth inning of their 9-1 loss Monday at Coors Field.
The Dodgers, as they so often do, implemented a shift with the right-handed-hitting Trevor Story at the plate for the Colorado Rockies. Runners populated first base and second base. And just as the Dodgers drew it up, Kenta Maeda induced a groundball up the middle to where second baseman Max Muncy was stationed to wipe away what would’ve been a clean single just a few years ago.
But Muncy couldn’t handle a high bounce off the mound and the ball ricocheted off his chest. Instead of two outs, the Dodgers got none. Maeda, already having had to work around multiple miscues, crouched in frustration. All Muncy could do was throw him the ball and hope Maeda would pick him up. The miscue, one of the many that have hounded the Dodgers in recent weeks, led to a five-run inning.
For the second consecutive day, the Dodgers were outclassed, a rare occurrence during a campaign with few valleys. Their 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday matched their largest margin of defeat. Monday’s drubbing surpassed it.
They still own the best record in the majors two-thirds of the way through the season, but their defensive struggles have become a trend. The Dodgers have committed 22 errors in their last 14 games. They’ve given up 15 unearned runs in their last 11 games. Their 79 errors are tops in the National League. Recent injuries to Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez, their two best defensive infielders, have not helped.
“We pride ourselves on being sure-handed, and we’re just not making plays that we’ve shown to make consistently,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t have an explanation for it.”
Muncy’s play in the fifth inning was a window into how the club can accumulate so many errors but lead the majors in defensive runs saved. Individuals have botched more routine plays than normal, but the aggressive shifting allows them to convert batted balls into outs, particularly in the infield, and some analytics indicate the Dodgers are an elite defensive club.
Muncy’s miscue, ruled his 14th error and sixth at second base after a scoring change, broke the dam. Nolan Arenado had been three for 29 against Maeda before hitting a two-run single to center field. Two batters later, after Maeda walked Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon lined a two-run double down the right-field line to give Colorado a 6-0 lead.
It was Maeda’s 27th and final pitch of the inning. He didn’t secure an out. His defense let him down, but he didn’t help himself by walking two batters in the fifth inning, including starting pitcher Jon Gray when Gray was trying to drop a sacrifice bunt. Caleb Ferguson replaced Maeda and managed to strand the three runners. Maeda (7-8) was charged with six runs — five earned — and seven hits in four-plus innings.
“It would’ve been best if I was able to get the out right there,” Maeda said, “but it’s my job to stay in the game and get the next batter out.”
The Dodgers’ sloppiness surfaced two batters into the game. Joc Pederson, an outfielder the Dodgers are trying to convert on the fly into a first baseman, lost Justin Turner’s routine throw in the sun peeking through the ballpark. The ball bounced off Pederson’s glove. It was his second consecutive game with an error at first base and his sixth error in 19 games at the position.
Pederson’s frustrations boiled over in the eighth inning when he didn’t run out a groundball to the first baseman to conclude his hitless night. Roberts pulled him from the game.
“It was unprofessional and I let the emotions get the best of me,” Pederson said. “I’m better than that.”
The second notable defensive gaffe came from center field, where A.J. Pollock encountered trouble figuring out how to handle Ian Desmond’s line drive. He tried to backhand the ball but it bounced in front and by him to the wall. Desmond wound up with a triple.
With Desmond at third base and Raimel Tapia, a speedy light-hitting outfielder at the plate, the Dodgers drew the infield in with three defenders to the right side. Tapia split Muncy and Pederson’s dives with a chopper through the right side.
Gray (10-7) became the second hard-throwing right-hander in two days to shut down the Dodgers. After Stephen Strasburg limited the Dodgers to one run in seven innings Sunday, Gray held the Dodgers to one run and three hits. His 112th and final pitch was a 90-mph slider that darted out of the strike zone. Muncy flailed at it and struck out to end the eighth inning.
The Dodgers were muzzled on offense and left wondering about their defense.
“It needs to get better,” Roberts said.