A cavernous Marlins Park, its crowd as sparse as ever and its eccentricity neutered since the last time they played here, welcomed the Dodgers as they faced the worst team in the National League on Tuesday. It was not a combination to incite a sense of urgency for a club that would, understandably, struggle to generate some at this stage. The Dodgers arrived with a division lead so big they could lose their next 18 games and still sit atop the NL West.
But tangible goals remain for the Dodgers to continue burying their competition before this playoff rehearsal ends. Collectively, the Dodgers, owners of the best home record in baseball, are striving to snatch home-field advantage away from the American League’s two behemoths — the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Individually, players seek to carve a role or sustain production or build momentum.
On Tuesday, two of those individuals, rookies Dustin May and Will Smith, capitalizing on opportunities and seeking to make an impact in October, carried the Dodgers to a hefty early lead before an avalanche produced a 15-1 blowout win over the Miami Marlins that concluded with catcher Russell Martin pitching and reliever Adam Kolarek playing first base in the ninth inning.
Smith homered twice to hike his total to nine in 23 games — the most in franchise history in that span. His first, a solo shot in the fourth inning, landed over the navy blue — previously neon green — wall in left field to go back-to-back with Corey Seager. The second, a two-run blast in the sixth inning, landed where the polarizing colossal yellow sculpture used to overlook left-center field.
Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger slammed back-to-back home runs off left-hander Wei-Yin Chen in the Dodgers’ four-run seventh inning. It was Turner’s 20th — giving him his third career 20-home-run season — and Bellinger’s 39th. He’s tied for the major league lead with Christian Yelich and Mike Trout.
Matt Beaty topped off the home run frenzy with a solo swat in the eighth inning before contributing a three-run triple in the ninth. The Dodgers’ six home runs set a Marlins Park record. They added six doubles, including three by A.J. Pollock, and one single. Kristopher Negron supplied the single in the Dodgers’ four-run ninth inning, which spoiled the Dodgers attempt to set the major league record for most hits in a game without a single. The 13 extra-base knocks matched a franchise record.
“It was as good of a night as we’ve had all year,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and that’s saying a lot.”
May, a candidate for a spot on the Dodgers’ postseason pitching staff, allowed one run, three hits and a walk across 5 2/3 innings in his first start away from Dodger Stadium to earn his first win. The 21-year-old prospect has given up five earned runs in 17 innings across three starts while learning he belongs 60 feet, 6 inches away from major-league hitters.
“They’re just normal people, too,” May said. “They get out just like everybody else. The only difference is they hit the mistakes a little harder than the other guys do.”
The Dodgers (80-41) announced a change to their pitching plans early Tuesday, flipping May and Clayton Kershaw. May was originally scheduled to start Wednesday. Kershaw will pitch Wednesday instead and, as a result, will not appear in the Dodgers’ upcoming three-game series in Atlanta against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves, coincidentally, are a possible postseason opponent. Did the Dodgers make the switch so the Braves couldn’t get a look at Kershaw so close to October? Roberts said that was a “good thought,” but insisted it was not the reason.
“I think the way he takes care of himself, he could’ve easily went today,” Roberts said. “But I think just where we’re at, seeing the calendar, there’s really no cost to moving him back a day and to just kind of build another day of rest for him, we felt good about it. He’s actually in as good a place as he’s been at this point in [the] time of year than I can recall.”
So the third phase of May’s audition came a day earlier than expected opposite the punchless Marlins (44-74). The fiery right-hander retired the first nine batters he faced. The Marlins’ only run was generated in the fourth inning after May issued a leadoff walk to Jon Berti and Brian Anderson stroked a double. It was the first run allowed by a Dodgers starting pitcher in 23 innings since May surrendered one in the sixth inning of his previous outing last Wednesday.
May struck out five and induced a double play with his 90th pitch before Roberts emerged to take the ball from him in the sixth inning. The Dodgers led 6-1 by then, en route to bulldozing another inferior foe without a hint of slowing.
“That was fun,” Bellinger said.