SAN DIEGO — The barrage unfolded quickly but resoundingly. The Dodgers have demonstrated an ability to slug their way out of deficits all season. Their eight-run, fourth-inning explosion against the Padres was just the latest and loudest of the offensive thumpings they’ve handed out this year.
“We just don’t give up,” Mookie Betts said after a 13-7 comeback romp.
How they wound up having to climb out of such a deficit remains a point of focus.
Tony Gonsolin got through his first two innings Monday afternoon having faced the minimum six batters. But he opened the third inning with a seven-pitch walk to Padres first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
The damage that followed was brisk. Luis Campusano turned on the second pitch he saw, driving a two-run shot into the bullpen in left-center. The next three batters reached in succession on first-pitch knocks — a Trent Grisham single, a Ha-Seong Kim single and a two-run double from Fernando Tatis Jr. That made it 4-0, and another sour outing for Gonsolin was sealed.
The Dodgers won, 13-7. They are 65-46.
They overcame a poor Tony Gonsolin start (6 R in 6 IP) with an 8-run 4th inning. They’ll take three of four in San Diego and came within one bad inning (Saturday’s eighth) of a four-game sweep.
Time of game: 2:46.
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) August 7, 2023
Gonsolin was an All-Star a year ago. He elevated expectations about his importance to the Dodgers staff. But now, even with an uncertain rotation around him most of the summer, he has struggled to maintain that growth. Monday marked the seventh time in his last nine starts that he’d allowed four or more runs. His ERA now sits at 4.42.
“It’s been really frustrating,” Gonsolin said.
The Dodgers have needed more out of him.
“Given where we’re at, his track record, namely accomplishments, he’s put himself in that category where you gotta be dependable, you gotta go deeper,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday morning. “I have to loosen the reins at times. So we’re gonna need that from him.”
Despite his struggles, Gonsolin completed six innings on Monday. It was just his fourth time pitching that deep into a game this season. The club, Roberts acknowledged, has had to “manage” Gonsolin this season. Roberts implied that the guardrails have been because Gonsolin has been dealing with something physically, but added “I’m not going to get into all of it.” Gonsolin confirmed he had been managing something but wouldn’t go into detail.
The right-hander has dealt with shoulder and forearm issues the last two seasons and missed the first month of this year due to a sprained ankle — which some in the organization have hypothesized may explain the chain reaction that has led to Gonsolin’s mechanics falling out of whack at points.
Los Angeles’ pitching woes have made it so that Gonsolin actually leads the club with 18 starts. But as the rest of the rotation gets healthy, the club still needs him to pitch to his former All-Star pedigree. Roberts said Gonsolin will make his next start Friday. From there, “we’ll see.”
“Performance matters,” Roberts said.
The saving grace, at least Monday: The deficit lasted for just nine Dodgers plate appearances, as Los Angeles thumped its way ahead a half-inning later. Eight of the nine hitters Seth Lugo faced before being chased from the ballgame reached safely. David Peralta and Jason Heyward roped doubles, and Betts jolted the Dodgers ahead with a grand slam to make it 8-5.
Gonsolin’s blow-up outing proved to be just a footnote in a blowout win. Los Angeles got out of San Diego with another series win (and was just one eighth-inning blow-up from a four-game sweep) and a season-best 4 1/2 games up in the division (pending the Giants’ result on Monday in Anaheim).
The Dodgers’ dominant performance all but squelched the Padres’ hopes for a late-division surge. San Diego is 11 games back.
“I don’t know what they’re feeling, what they’re going through,” Roberts said. “But we did what we needed to do.”
What the Dodgers are getting out of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman is special.
Betts slugged his 30th home run on Sunday and his 31st a day later, putting him just four off the career-high he set a year ago. Freeman is suddenly positioned to have just the 15th-ever season of 20 homers and 20 steals from a full-time first baseman. Freeman is sitting at 23 homers and 16 steals.
Entering Monday, Freeman’s OPS stood at 1.011 (second in the National League) and Betts was at .965 (fourth). The Dodgers haven’t had a pair produce quite like that offensively since Gary Sheffield and Shawn Green in 2001. By OPS+ (to adjust for era and offensive environment), the last time the Dodgers had two players thriving like Betts and Freeman came in Brooklyn, when the dynamic duo of Augie Galan and Dixie Walker carried an otherwise meager offense in 1944.
“To have those two guys as locked in as they have been for such a long time, I haven’t seen it,” Roberts said of the modern duo. “I don’t think I’ve seen it from any duo in recent memory.”
Roberts has doubled and tripled down on his heaping of praise on his star first baseman over the past week. He dubbed Freeman every bit the MVP candidate as his former Braves teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. (Acuña is first and Freeman is second in the NL in FanGraphs WAR) and made comparisons to a San Diego icon in the process.
“In the batter’s box, he is the modern-day Tony Gwynn,” Roberts said Monday morning. “I’ll say that and I stand by that. … I knew Tony as a friend. I think Tony would take that as a compliment, for me saying that.
“It’s striking, given how much he can still slug, how much teams prepare for him. Hitting is harder than it’s ever been, because of the stuff, the matchups. So for him to be able to do that, it’s remarkable. It really is.”
Clayton Kershaw will make his return at home against the Rockies on Thursday, Roberts confirmed.
“It does a lot for his psyche,” Roberts said.
More importantly, it does a lot for a pitching staff that is starved for consistency. Kershaw still leads the staff in innings pitched despite missing more than a month due to an unspecified left shoulder injury. When Lance Lynn went seven innings in his Dodgers debut, it marked just the 10th time this season a starter had done that for the club this season — six of those games were Kershaw starts.
His value to the Dodgers rotation cannot be overstated, even in years unlike this one, when the Dodgers now have a 4.66 ERA out of their starters.
The Dodgers are indeed hoping to come to an agreement with highly-touted Korean teenager Hyun-seok Jang, as Korean baseball insider Daniel Kim reported on Monday. Jang was expected to be the first selection in the upcoming KBO Draft, but the hard-throwing 19-year-old right-hander announced last week his intention was to sign with a Major League Baseball organization instead.
Los Angeles beefed up its international signing pool funds on Friday, getting extra space from the White Sox in exchange for minor-league right-handers Aldrín Batista and Maximo Martinez.
It was a neat bit of trial testing and schedule fortune that the Dodgers faced left-handed starters in five of their first six games since addressing their lineup against left-handed pitching with the acquisitions of Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario.
“The perfect storm,” Roberts said.
And while the resulting production — 23 runs in those five games and a .279 batting average against those starters — is a small sample, it’s certainly an encouraging one for Los Angeles.
“It’s just a really good lineup we’ve been putting out there,” Freeman said.
The additions are performing. Rosario is 8-for-28 (.286) with a pair of homers and pair of doubles since his arrival, and Hernández is 12-for-37 (.324), including a solo homer on Monday.
As Monday showed, they’ve been able to hit, period. The Dodgers’ 117 wRC+ now ranks fourth in the sport, as the club’s inability to land a top-end starter at the deadline might be offset some simply by this lineup’s ability to slug its way out of most of the deficits it may face.
(Top photo of Mookie Betts: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)