Column: Even with some struggles, the Dodgers are really good. And they can be a lot better
Mookie Betts is batting .196 …
… and they’re still the highest-scoring team in baseball.
Walker Buehler has an earned-run average in the fours, Julio Urias isn’t throwing as hard as he did last year, Andrew Heaney is on the injured list …
… and they still have the best record in the majors.
They started their backup catcher and a journeyman utility player on Sunday …
… and Sean Manaea lasted only 4 1/3 innings as they trampled the San Diego Padres 10-2 in their series finale at Petco Park.
The Dodgers are everything they were made out to be, the evidence of their anticipated offensive firepower found as much in what has gone wrong as what has gone right.
Their rotation depth is already a concern. Their Trevor Bauer problem remains in the background. And Betts isn’t their only key player searching for his rhythm at the plate, with Justin Turner and Max Muncy in similar situations.
Regardless, the Dodgers are a major league-best 11-4 after winning two of three games against the Padres.
The Dodgers have scored five or more runs in 10 games. Their average of 5.47 runs per game is the most in baseball.
They outscored the Padres over the three-game series, 18-6.
“I think it’s probably a lot to ask nine guys to be going good all at the same time,” Clayton Kershaw said. “But that’s what’s so great about our lineup. We don’t have to have all nine going. We have to have a few guys hot and everybody else do their jobs and have good at-bats.”
Clayton Kershaw gave up only one run and Cody Bellinger homered twice as the Dodgers beat the Padres 10-2 on Sunday in San Diego.
Kershaw was a beneficiary of the lineup’s most recent outburst, which included a couple of homers by Cody Bellinger and another by Freddie Freeman.
With the Dodgers holding an 8-1 lead, Kershaw was able to depart from the game after only five innings. Sidelined for the 2021 postseason by an injury, Kershaw has been particularly mindful of protecting his arm in the early part of the season, especially since spring training was shortened by a lockout.
Manager Dave Roberts was pleased with the consistency of the offense Sunday. Instead of scoring the majority of their runs in one inning, the Dodgers scored in five of the first six innings.
“It was really the first time all year we tacked on runs,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers collected eight hits and four walks while exploiting a couple of errors by the Padres.
Roberts credited the team’s mindset for the early-season production.
“We know how good we can be,” he said. “But I think it just speaks to not only the talent but just the team offense.”
Turner, who drove in the first run and was two for four, struck out to end the third inning. But he fouled off seven consecutive pitches and forced Manaea to throw 11 pitches in the at-bat.
Bellinger homered the next inning.
“I think, at times, when you get a lot of really good offensive players, guys are kind of selfish with their at-bats,” Roberts said. “But we do a great job of valuing the walk, taking 90 feet and running the bases. We run the bases as well as we have since I’ve been here.”
To Roberts’ point: The team’s 13 steals are tied for the most in the majors.
The Dodgers didn’t steal any bases on this day, but Roberts was able to offer other examples. He pointed to when catcher Austin Barnes tagged up to reach third base on a fly ball to center field by Freeman in the sixth inning, which positioned him to score on a fielder’s choice.
The manager also applauded a groundout by Muncy that drove in Betts later in the inning to extend the Dodgers’ lead to 10-1. Betts reached base three times, twice on walks.
“Those runs matter,” Roberts said.
The extra runs allowed Roberts to avoid calling on most of his high-leverage relievers. The exception was closer Craig Kimbrel, who had not pitched in six days and was in need in game action.
Bellinger is now the Dodgers’ home-run leader with four, something he said was in part a reflection of the team’s depth.
Dodgers pitcher David Price was put on the injured list Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19.
While the Dodgers certainly welcome Bellinger’s resurgence, they didn’t enter the season counting on it. Bellinger batted seventh Sunday.
“This is the craziest lineup I’ve been part of and it definitely just allows you to just stay simple and just kind of have the hand-the-baton-off kind of mentality,” Bellinger said.
The Dodgers have a run differential of plus-44, which leads the majors.
They’re really good.
And here’s what’s scary: When Betts, Turner and Muncy inevitably start playing like themselves again, they can be even better.
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