Late afternoon crept into evening at Chavez Ravine on Sunday, and late October was everywhere.
Smoke from an Eagle Rock brush fire billowed above the Elysian Hills. The sun beat upon the reserved-level seats in right field. Shadows edged across the diamond. A blimp lazily hovered overhead.
The Dodgers’ offense slowly, painfully disappeared.
In the finale of a three-game set against the New York Yankees in what was billed as a World Series preview, the Dodgers’ bats instead offered a World Series review.
They swung quickly and missed. They attacked hastily and failed. They hacked for the fences and buckled at the knees.
Does any of this sound familiar? Did anybody else watching at Dodger Stadium end the weekend in shaded chills?
The Dodgers lost the game, lost the series, lost their feeling of home invincibility. The final score was 5-1, and if it still doesn’t feel like October, check this out.
The score of the season-ending loss to the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series was 5-1.
The score of the season-ending loss to the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series was 5-1.
This game felt like both of those games, and this series felt like both of those series, with the Yankees winning two out of three while looking very much like the better team.
“It’s a good club,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the Bombers. “It’s good to put eyes on them.”
Except Dodgers fans would have done well to spend most of the series with those eyes closed.
On Friday, the Yankees pounded the Dodgers’ ace, Hyun-Jin Ryu. On Saturday, the Yankees scared the bejabbers out of their closer, Kenley Jansen, before losing after a controversial ninth-inning call. Then, on Sunday, in front of a stadium filled with tired-of-watching-this witnesses, the Yankees won the series by completing a three-day wipeout of the Dodgers’ offense.
Against five Yankees pitchers Sunday, the Dodgers’ batters managed five hits in 31 at-bats with 12 strikeouts, only three walks and zero hits in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
For the series, the Dodgers scored only five runs with 39 strikeouts, six walks and only two hits in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
They batted only .183 in the series, and ready for some more eerie familiarity?
Last year in the World Series, the Dodgers batted .180. Two years ago in the World Series, the Dodgers batted .205.
Ask any Dodgers executive and they will insist it was the offense — not the maligned bullpen or beleaguered starters — that was the leading cause of those two World Series losses. This is one reason they brought in hitting guru Robert Van Scoyoc. This is why the folks on Vin Scully Avenue have been so happy this summer, what with the new patient approach leading to the smartest hitting team in the Andrew Friedman era, with the Dodgers leading their league in runs scored and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
So now, in the biggest series of the regular season, in their toughest test against an American League team, in the first pressure situation that could replicate October ... they do this?
Twice in the first three innings against Yankees starter Domingo German, they had two runners on base with less than two out, and both times they failed to score after some miserable plate appearances.
In the first inning, Corey Seager struck out on three pitches. In the third inning, Cody Bellinger grounded out on the first pitch and Seager flied out to deep center field on the first pitch.
“Make no excuse, obviously, give credit where credit is due, but I don’t think any of our guys has seen [German],” Roberts said.
Indeed, none of the Dodgers hitters had faced the 27-year-old right-hander, but Roberts knows that reasoning won’t fly in late October in a World Series that could be filled with unfamiliar pitchers. And their problems weren’t just with German.
In the eighth inning against Zack Britton, they went down on five pitches total. In the ninth inning against Aroldis Chapman, they went down on three strikeouts.
There was little patience. There seemed to be no plan. It appeared they were reverting to the past October all-or-nothing strategy of swinging early and often and for the fences, and even Roberts acknowledged it all seemed a bit rushed.
“I thought we could take better at-bats in certain situations,” he said. “I think we did get a little impatient.”
The offense’s weakness was so glaring, Clayton Kershaw was the losing pitcher in a playoff-type game and nobody can blame him. Kershaw gave up just four hits in seven innings with a dozen strikeouts and no walks in one of his best games of the year. Three of those hits were home runs, and that was all the Yankees needed.
“I don’t know if facing them gives you more or less help. I’m not sure,” Kershaw said. “Hopefully we can find out in October.”
If the Dodgers play like this weekend, they won’t beat this team in October. The Yankees have a deeper lineup, a better bullpen ... and, yes, for these three days, they had much smarter hitters.
After the three home runs by DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Mike Ford on Sunday, the Yankees clinched the win in the final two innings with a full-count RBI double by Ford and a poked pop RBI single with two strikes by Gio Urshela.
“I liked the way they played the game,” Roberts said. “They definitely mirrored our club.”
The Dodgers might need to look in that mirror again. They won’t see the Yankees. They’ll see themselves during their previous two series on the biggest stage, and it’s not a good look.
“It’s hard not to let it creep into your head that this could be a preview of something in the fall,” the Dodgers’ Max Muncy said.
It’s equally hard not to feel just a wee bit of worry.