Column: Dodgers have better days ahead while Angels find themselves in ugly situation
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is a tough grader.
On the day the Dodgers pummeled the hapless and hopeless Angels again to become the first National League team to win 60 games, he gave his team an A-minus for its performance during the first half of the season.
That’s for compiling a .667 winning percentage leading into the All-Star break, second in team history only to the .678 pre-All Star win percentage recorded by the 2017 Dodgers. They’re 10 games ahead of San Diego in the NL West, a fat cushion that should spare them a repeat of last season’s wild-card drama, and they have the second-best record in the major leagues, behind only the New York Yankees (64-28, .696).
And they’ve done all that without injured pitchers Walker Buehler, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Heaney, Dustin May and Blake Treinen, as well as briefer absences of position players Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts. Julio Urías has stepped up, rebounding on Saturday from a rare bad outing to strike out eight and give up one run over seven strong innings. Tyler Anderson, added to the All-Star roster on Saturday, is having a breakout season. Roberts also praised reliever Evan Phillips for stepping up when needed.
Their depth has delivered. “We’ve done a nice job. We’ve done a really nice job,” Roberts said. “I expect to be in first place. We all do. But how we got there, I think, is the most important.”
Given that they’ve had to reconfigure their rotation and their bullpen, a grade of A-minus seems low. But Roberts has to leave some incentive for them to sustain this level and maybe raise it after the All-Star break. Maybe that’s the right way to go: His players believe there are even better days ahead than what they’ve experienced in winning four straight games and 13 of their last 15 games before the break. To them, a grade of A-minus seemed about right.
Diego Cartaya, 20, is a potential cornerstone, but the Dodgers should trade him if it helps them acquire Juan Soto, 23, from the Washington Nationals.
“I think that’s fair. I think we’ve played pretty well, obviously. The record and the standings show that,” shortstop Trea Turner said after he hit two home runs and drove in three runs Saturday as the Dodgers demolished the Angels 7-1 at Angel Stadium.
“But we’re not complacent,” Turner said. “I think we want to get better and continue to play good baseball. A lot of games ahead. Still got to win the division. There are some tough teams. So just keep our head focused on the next game, and I think we’ll be all right.”
Turner provided half of the Dodgers’ four-home-run output on Saturday. Max Muncy and Freddie Freeman provided the rest of the power, with Freeman recording the 1,000th RBI of his career on his leadoff homer in the fifth inning. By the time he returned to the locker room the ball had been retrieved and placed in a clear plastic display cube with a label explaining its importance.
“As a kid you dream of being a big leaguer. You never think you’re really going to get there,” the Orange County native said. “And to get one big league RBI, to get 1,000, it’s pretty special to do in front of your family.”
But the Dodgers haven’t had to rely on home runs alone, and that’s the foundation of their first-half success.
“That’s how we’re built: get on base and keep the line moving type deal,” Turner said. “We can do a lot of different things, whether it’s playing small ball and moving runners and hitting the ball the other way, or hitting the ball out of the ballpark, taking walks.”
Sticking with the theme of grades, the Angels’ first-half performance would get an F-minus or lower, if that’s possible for a team that has two of the game’s best players in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout but can’t build balance and depth around them.
When Angels outfielder Mike Trout takes part in All-Star Game activities at Dodger Stadium this week, he will have his son Beckham at his side.
The Angels’ already limited prospects for improvement took a hit on Saturday when Trout experienced a recurrence of the back spasms that had forced him to miss the three previous games, and he was scratched from the lineup. On Sunday he was replaced as an All-Star Game starter. If his back issues prove to be a long-term problem the Angels’ season is over. It probably is, anyway.
The Angels are 2-12 in July, their wins coming in games Ohtani started on July 6 and July 13. They’re 15-40 since May 15, falling 20½ games behind AL West leader Houston and 10½ out of the final AL wild card spot. They’re 22-27 at home after being swept in this two-game Freeway Series.
It’s ugly. And interim manager Phil Nevin’s insistence they can still get back into things if they reel off a long winning streak sounds less convincing each time he says it.
Not playing on Sunday gave the Angels an extra day off, which they need. “Yeah, I think everybody [can] just reset,” Trout said Saturday. “I think guys can go enjoy their families and then reset it for the second half.”
Roberts planned to enjoy a beach barbecue on his rare Sunday off, though he said he’d also probably watch some baseball. “It’s a sickness,” he said, laughing.
Not if it helps the Dodgers turn their midterm A-minus into a final grade of A or A-plus, which is all that really matters.
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