After a three-game simulation of October baseball opposite a fellow World Series contender at Dodger Stadium over the weekend, the Dodgers returned to late August’s doldrums Monday at Petco Park to face an inferior divisional opponent playing out the string. They were back to punching down, not that it was their choice, and holding another round of auditions for when October actually arrives and the games matter.
The setting was different, the vibe was too. The result was not. The Dodgers, stuck in their deepest offensive slump this season, could not overcome a forgettable sixth inning en route to a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. They have scored 13 runs over their last six games and have gone 3-3 during the span. All three wins have come by one run — two via walk-off hits.
“This is baseball,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “I mean, if you guys expect us to score 10, 12 runs every single night, you guys are out of your minds. So just got to keep working. Keep trying to put together ABs, and stuff like this happens throughout the course of a season to every single team, no matter how good or bad they are.”
Monday’s troubles were stoked by the Dodgers’ disagreements with home-plate umpire Rob Drake’s strike zone. Batters were irked by Drake consistently calling borderline low pitches strikes. The frustration peaked with the game’s final pitch — a 94-mph fastball from Padres closer Kirby Yates. Turner thought it was too low but Drake called Strike 3. A confounded Turner burst with anger. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts soon followed.
“I asked him, ‘You call that a strike?’” Turner said. “He told me it was right down the middle, which was pretty upsetting. If he thinks that’s down the middle, no wonder he was missing a lot of pitches throughout the night.
“And then he walks into me and told me not to bump him, which also upsets me. I’m not trying to bump him or touch him in any way, but when you walk into me, and then cry foul like I hit you or something, is brutal.”
Monday began with Dustin May’s latest audition. For five innings, the hard-throwing prospect looked the part, dominating the Padres’ lineup behind a wicked, tailing, two-seam fastball. Then he hit a familiar wall. Like in his first four major league starts, May stumbled into trouble in the sixth and didn’t escape.
May’s undoing began with a leadoff double by pinch-hitter Austin Allen. Greg Garcia singled and Josh Naylor snuck a single through the infield to score Allen. Center fielder A.J. Pollock fielded the ball and fired to third base as Garcia rounded second. Garcia held up, but the ball sailed over the cutoff man’s head and bounced through third baseman Turner’s legs. May wasn’t backing Turner up, so the ball bounced into the Dodgers’ dugout.
“There’s no excuse,” May said. “I can’t let the ball go into the dugout.”
Garcia was awarded two bases to tie the score as Naylor advanced to third. Moments later, he scored on Manny Machado’s groundout to put San Diego ahead. That spelled the end of May’s night after 5 1/3 innings. Two of the four runs he gave up were earned. He struck out two and walked one.
“The takeaway is Dustin threw the ball pretty well,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers (86-46) took the short bus ride to San Diego late Sunday after losing two of three to the New York Yankees in a series that carried more wattage than just about any. It also served as a reminder that beyond the weak National League are other loaded clubs capable of trouncing them.
“We still got some work to do,” Roberts said.
Roberts said his biggest takeaway from the weekend was his team’s unusually poor at-bat quality. He credited the Yankees’ pitching staff for holding Los Angeles to five runs in three games, but also pointed to his batters’ approach.
“When you’re talking about having a plan and staying in the strike zone, that’s on the hitter,” he said.
The Dodgers weren’t much better Monday against Eric Lauer, who entered the game with a 1.72 ERA in six starts against them. The left-hander surrendered three runs and six hits and struck out eight before left-hander Matt Strahm and Yates combined for three scoreless innings.
The Dodgers, however, scored first after the hosts took a jab. The Padres (61-69) post a “fun fact” about every opposing hitter on one of the two videoboards at Petco Park. Their choice for Turner, the Dodgers’ red-haired-and-bearded third baseman, during his first plate appearance was a troll job bordering on personal.
“Has been considered a look-alike to the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot ‘Gritty’,” it read. Turner then cracked the third pitch of the at-bat over the left-field wall for his 24th home run to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
Turner struck again in the fifth when he smacked a groundball down the third-base line. The ball caromed away from left fielder Wil Myers, allowing Max Muncy to score from first base and Turner to scamper into second with a double.
In the sixth, Enrique Hernandez clubbed a solo home run off Lauer to the second deck beyond the left-field wall to give Los Angeles a two-run lead. That soon vanished in a flash and a frustrated group didn’t recover.