All season, the Dodgers’ offense has been inconsistent but productive, streaky but successful.
“If you look at where the guys are,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday, “some guys have been freezing and then they’re really hot.”
That was the case again in the Dodgers’ 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, pairing superstar performances from Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts with just enough offensive punch from the rest of the team. .
Despite an early three-run lead, as Clayton Kershaw struggled again in a five-inning, four-run start to cap one of the worst months of his big league career, the Dodgers (32-21) kept their composure and rallied late, tying a three-game streak against the major league-leading Rays (38-16), the same way they’ve won most games recently:
Timely offense. Launch of the clutch lifter paddock. And the late-game heroism of an ever-rotating cast of contributors.
“It was a great win,” Roberts said afterwards. “It’s just a bunch of guys who are really sold on the team’s attack.”
The game’s key stretch came in the top of the seventh inning, as the Dodgers trailed 4-3 and faced a third straight loss.
First-inning hitter, pincher Trayce Thompson, hit to extend his six-week no-hitter streak to 39 at bats — the longest by a Dodgers hitter in more than a century.
The next hitter, shortstop Miguel Rojas, started the day with a .208 batting average, one of many flirting with the Mendoza line on a Dodgers team that still leads the National League in scoring.
“You just bet on guys,” Roberts said of building a roster full of talented but inconsistent hitters. “Determine who is the best option that day.”
On Saturday, Roberts’ bet on Rojas – who has recently enjoyed a comeback with his batting and defensive play – paid off.
He roped in a single to the middle of the infield, putting some stress on Rays reliever Colin Poche. Three throws later, Poche landed a slider that put Rojas into second place.
From there, the batting order was reversed and the Dodgers’ big bats went through.
Betts evened the score with an RBI single, increasing his season batting average to .389 with runners in scoring position.
After Betts stole second base, Freeman hit his second double of the day — extending his hitting streak to 16 games — to give the Dodgers a 5-4 lead.
“We’d rather not play from behind, but you have to play the cards that were dealt to you,” Betts said after the Dodgers’ 15th win this season. “We don’t care about tracks and so on. We have to play 27 outs.
Earlier in the game, it didn’t look like the Dodgers would need to mount a rally against the Rays.
Max Muncy entered the day down two for 27 but hit a solo home run to open the scoring in the second before lining up an RBI brace to make it 2-0 in the fourth.
“We worked hard last week trying to come up with something,” Muncy said. “Part of it is that the mechanics are a bit off. The majority is that there just hasn’t been much to do above the plate.
The Dodgers fabricated another run later in the fourth inning. Muncy advanced to third base on a productive pitch from Jason Heyward. Then he scored on a wild pitch from Tyler Glasnow, the Tampa Bay ace making his first start of the season.
“Stuff like that you don’t see in the score book or the box score,” Kershaw said. “You can’t say enough good things about our attack.”
The only problem: Kershaw couldn’t sustain the 3-0 lead.
Late in the fourth, he walked the first batter, hooked a first-pitch slider that Christian Bethancourt hammered in for a double, then helplessly waved a return from Manuel Margot who crossed the infield for a two-run single. .
Things got worse in the fifth when Harold Ramírez jumped on a fastball from the first pitch for a two-run home run to right field.
By the end of his start, Kershaw’s ERA in May had risen to 5.55 – the second highest in a month, at least three starts, in his major league career.
When asked what had changed from April, when he was the NL Pitcher of the Month with a 1.89 ERA, the 35-year-old was quick to point out a glaring problem.
“My order got really inconsistent,” Kershaw said. “It’s frustrating. It’s not really something I’m used to struggling with. But it is what it is. You have to keep grinding. I have to try to figure this out as best as I can. I can.
Still, after Kershaw’s exit in fifth, the Dodgers’ offense rebounded.
The team’s seventh-inning rally put them in position to use high-leverage relievers Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips.
Then rookie Miguel Vargas broke a solo homer in the eighth, providing what proved to be important insurance after Caleb Ferguson gave up a run in the ninth before ending the game with men in the corners.
“For us to take a lead and then lose it, and come back and fight, scratch and claw, it was just overall a really good win,” Roberts said. “Now we have a chance to win the series.”
And if the past is a precedent again, the Dodgers will need a stronger offense to do so.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.