The Dodgers’ 2021 season so far resembles the cryptocurrency market, cycling through spikes and dips, in the green but still waiting to blast to the moon.
The club, pegged as the overwhelming World Series favorites two months ago, is now navigating through another downswing. The Dodgers lost two of three games to the Atlanta Braves over the weekend. They’ve lost six of nine games and sit in third place in the National League West. The stretch comes after they began the season 13-2 then went 5-15 then went 13-2 again.
What was projected as a two-team race between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres has a third wheel out front — the San Francisco Giants sitting in first place.
The Dodgers’ three games in Atlanta were the first of 15 games against teams under .500. Next up is a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team best known this season for letting Javy Báez toy with them on the bases, starting Tuesday at PNC Park.
The Dodgers have handled bad teams this season; they’re 21-9 against clubs under .500 entering Monday. The Pirates are 23-35, residing in last place in the NL Central, but just won three of four games against the Miami Marlins.
“It's been good and it's been inconsistent, I think,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There's been some really good play. There's been some mediocre play. I think the win-loss [record] … I don't really concern myself too much with that right now. I think just across the board, I think our pitching has been really good consistently. I think offensively we just got to continue to take good at-bats and just be more consistent on that side.”
The Dodgers posted an 11-run first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday and an eight-run fifth inning against the Braves on Friday. Other than that, they’ve been mostly quiet offensively. Since that 11-run explosion Wednesday, they’ve scored 18 runs on 20 hits over 34 innings. Friday was the first time they ever scored nine runs in a game with four or fewer hits.
Max Muncy’s absence didn’t help. The first baseman, who’s having an MVP-level season, exited Friday’s game in the fourth inning because of a right ankle injury. He didn’t appear again until pinch-hitting in the seventh inning Sunday. Roberts said X-rays taken of Muncy’s ankle Saturday were negative, but he said before Sunday’s game that he was “hopeful, not necessarily confident” that Muncy would start Tuesday.
The Dodgers didn’t hit a home run in Atlanta until Albert Pujols connected for a solo shot in the ninth inning Sunday. They had just five extra-base hits and 16 total hits over the three games.
Mookie Betts is eight for 23 with three walks over his last six games, but he hasn’t homered in 65 plate appearances going back 14 games to May 18. His .438 slugging percentage would be the lowest of his career. It ranks 64th in the majors. Last year, he slugged .562 and clubbed 16 home runs in 55 games. This year, he’s hit five home runs in 49 games.
“He'll homer within the next few days,” Roberts predicted before Sunday’s game. “But he's taking really good swings. Taking really good at-bats. Just missing some pitches. But, yeah, there'll be some homers coming soon.”
Pujols hasn’t had trouble hitting balls over the fence. While the praise for Pujols’ off-field presence has been effusive, the 21-year veteran is also producing in his part-time role on the field.
Pujols has started 13 games — 11 at first base and two as the designated hitter — of the Dodgers’ 19 since he signed May 17. He’s come off the bench to pinch-hit in four games.
The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer’s home run Sunday was his fourth in 52 plate appearances as a Dodger. Three have come against left-handed pitching. Overall, he’s 10 for 28 (.359) versus left-handers since joining the club. He’s doing what the Dodgers envisioned when they signed him.
“I don't change my routine,” Pujols said Sunday. “I always maintain the same routine, always try to have confidence, the communication, the scouting report we have. Try to have the same swing, be aggressive and find a good pitch and try to put a good swing.”
The Pirates have left-hander Tyler Anderson listed as their starter Wednesday, bookended by two right-handers, meaning it’ll probably be Pujols’ only start of the series. The Dodgers will counter Wednesday with Tony Gonsolin, who will come off the injured list to start the game and make his season debut.
The 27-year-old right-hander was placed on the injured list April 4 because of a shoulder injury before appearing in a game. He made three starts on rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City. He gave up four runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and three walks over 10 1/3 innings. Roberts said Gonsolin will be limited to four innings.
He joins a rotation that has been undermanned since Dustin May blew out his elbow May 1. Instead of replacing him, the Dodgers opted for bullpen games in his spot. Gonsolin’s inclusion should alleviate the workload for the relief corps as the Dodgers seek to get on track, maybe even take off into orbit, during a soft spot in their schedule.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.