The Dodgers’ quick two-game series with Houston this week put on display everything the team can be, both highlighting the team’s ability to strike quickly and dominate on the mound while also laying bare its current lack of consistent focus and execution. Never was the latter more obvious than late in Tuesday night’s shutout loss, as the Dodgers went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base.
One of the Dodgers’ best chances to overtake Houston, of which they had several, came in the 7th inning as Lance McCullers Jr.’s pitch count rose and his outing came to an end. After a Cody Bellinger single and a Mookie Betts walk, Astros manager Dusty Baker lifted McCullers from the game with 2 outs and runners at 1st and 2nd. The Dodgers trailed 1-0 at the time, kept in the game by 7 strong innings by Walker Buehler and Blake Treinen. Baker turned to Blake Taylor, a left-handed reliever who had allowed runs in each of his two outings in San Francisco the previous weekend. Taylor lacked command almost immediately, falling behind in the count 3-0 against Max Muncy, notoriously a patient hitter. With Justin Turner on deck, the Dodgers were closing in on an opportunity for one of their hottest hitters (.326, 7 home runs in July) to either tie the game or break it wide open with the bases loaded.
Instead, Muncy would swing at the next 6 pitches – 4 of them outside the zone – and strike out on a slider more than 2 feet off the plate away. While Muncy getting the green light on a 3-0 count is understandable given his track record, it was an uncharacteristically brain dead at-bat at a critical juncture for the Dodgers. While a few of the pitches were borderline strikes, 3-0 and 3-1 swings aren’t meant to protect from a called strike – if you’re hacking in these counts, any coach will tell you it ought to be a pitch you can drive. The pitches Muncy offered at from Blake Taylor weren’t that, and the inning quickly ended unceremoniously, leaving a sellout crowd groaning.
It should be made clear that my intent is not to single out Muncy’s poor situational execution – these issues are team wide, so it’s particularly glaring when one of the Dodgers’ most notoriously disciplined hitters loses his way during a critical at-bat. Combined with a lack of defensive crispness, untimely relief pitching breakdowns, and often bad managing, it’s obvious that the team hasn’t neared their potential yet this season. The Dodgers are 1-11 in extra innings and 13-19 in one-run games – given the postseason’s tendency to test a team’s ability to find a way in tight situations, it’s high time the Dodgers start executing the little things better. Now a week into August, October is closer than it may appear – and without playing sharper baseball, the Dodgers could find themselves stuck in a one-game Wild Card playoff.
That starts with taking care of business when a team like the Anaheim Angels comes to town this weekend. Here’s how the series lines up.
Friday, August 6
7:10 pm PT
Patrick Sandoval (3-5, 3.38 ERA) vs David Price (4-1, 3.55 ERA)
As the Freeway Series begins Friday night, the Dodgers will be looking for a solid outing from David Price against an Angels lineup that has given left-handed pitching plenty of trouble this season (109 wRC+, T-6th in MLB). David Price has made 18 previous starts against Anaheim over his long career, going 7-7 with a solid 3.28 ERA (2-0, 1.38 since 2018). Price was not sharp in his last start at San Francisco, picking up his first loss as a Dodger while laboring through 4.1 innings. He also pitched in relief last Sunday, pitching a scoreless inning at Arizona.
Now close to fully built up in terms of pitch count, the Dodgers’ expectations with Price are higher than they once were. If he’s able to locate effectively, he’s been an effective option for the Dodgers all season. He’s done a great job in avoiding barrels in the zone, but hitters don’t chase when he misses (91st percentile in Barrel%, 6th percentile in Whiff% per Baseball Savant).
Tonight against Anaheim against Anaheim, the Dodgers would likely be thrilled with 5 solid innings from the veteran lefty.
The Angels will send lefty Patrick Sandoval to the rubber, making his 13th start of the season. Sandoval, 24, has really burst onto the scene this season for the Angels at a time when they really needed him with such a thin rotation. He’s effectively been their number 2 starting pitcher behind Shohei Ohtani, who the Dodgers will not face (on the mound at least) this weekend. Sandoval has completed 5 or more innings in 11 consecutive starts and pitched to a very strong 2.70 ERA in July. In three career appearances against the team actually FROM Los Angeles, Sandoval is 0-2 with a 5.25 ERA.
He’s rarely been hit hard this season, and has forced a ton of swings and misses with his 4-pitch mix. He’s in the 96th percentile of Whiff% and 94th percentile in average exit velocity against, meaning he’s been incredibly effective when forcing hitters into swinging situations. Where he’s run into trouble is when his command lacks, as evidenced by his 15 walks over 33.1 innings pitched in July. If the Dodgers want to find success against Sandoval, it’ll require a patient approach that forces him into the strike zone before hunting pitches to hit.
Saturday, August 7
6:10 pm PT
Jaime Barria (2-0, 4.12 ERA) vs Julio Urias (13-3, 3.40 ERA)
Julio Urias just keeps picking up wins on the mound for the Dodgers, partially due to his pitching performances and partially due to the absurd run support he’s received all season. Sunday in Arizona was no different, as he left the game after 5 scoreless innings with a 7-0 lead. At only 83 pitches, he likely had more to offer had the Dodgers needed it too. Urias has now strung together three consecutive very strong starts, allowing 2 runs and only 1 walk over his last 17.2 combined innings. The Angels notoriously hit lefties well though, and hit Julio hard on May 7, pinning him with a loss and 5 earned runs over 5 laborious frames of work. He’ll need to find a way to miss more bats on Saturday night if he wants to pick up his 14th win of the season.
The Dodgers’ offense will take on Jaime Barria, making only his 5th start of the season for the Anaheim Angels. Barria has seen mixed results as a starting pitcher in his 4th year with the team but pitched well in his only start against the Dodgers on July 24, 2019. Justin Turner homered for the Dodgers only run that day, and the Angels completed a sweep at Chavez Ravine for the first time. The Dodgers have added quite a few new faces since then, and hope to see Trea Turner’s debut on Saturday to complete a lineup some are referring to as a “death star” of sorts. It would be ridiculous, though, to assume that victory Saturday over Barria will come easily. He’s pitched exceptionally well since his return to the Angels on July 25, defeating the Twins and A’s while only allowing 2 runs over 13.2 innings of work.
Sunday, August 8
1:10 pm PT
Reid Detmers (0-1, 12.46 ERA) vs Walker Buehler (11-2, 2.16 ERA)
With Jacob deGrom’s injury concerns lingering, an opportunity at a first NL Cy Young award suddenly seems more and more available to Walker Buehler. He was sensational once again on Tuesday night against an excellent Astros lineup, pitching 6 innings of 1-run ball while striking out 5. Since the beginning of June, Buehler is 8-2 with a 1.75 ERA over 12 starts, striking out 82 batters while walking 23. If he pitches against the Angels on Sunday like he has for more than two months now, there’s no reason he can’t post another dominant outing and give LA a great chance at winning.
The Angels will counter with Reid Detmers, their first round pick from just over a year ago out of the University of Louisville. Detmers has quickly ascended through the Angels minor league system and made his MLB debut Sunday against Oakland. The A’s welcomed him to the big leagues rudely, pushing him around for 6 earned runs over 4.1 innings of work including homers by Matt Olson and Yan Gomes.
Detmers certainly has the talent to compete at the MLB level, but Sunday will present the toughest challenge the lefty has faced in his young career. If he isn’t significantly sharper than he was against Oakland, he’ll be lucky to even last 4 innings again. As with most rookie pitchers, it probably behooves the Dodgers to force him into the strike zone before swinging away. If he’s going to find his groove on Sunday, force him to find it himself rather than helping him out along the way – in all likelihood, there will be pitches left in hittable locations before the afternoon is finished for Detmers.
The Dodgers are going to once again be favored in all three games this weekend, as they almost always are. If they are actually going to capitalize on the clear talent advantage they’ll have all weekend, though, the level of focus and execution simply cannot be where it’s been in recent weeks. They’ll always win the occasional game 15-0, and that’s great – it’ll be what happens in the 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 games, though, that will ultimately decide their fate down the stretch.