LOS ANGELES – Maybe this was just a sneak preview, an appetizer of what might come in October. If it is, the Dodgers learned that nothing will come easily in the playoffs.
They found it out over the weekend, losing a series for the first time since June and discovering that there are teams that know how to grind out wins with strong pitching and opportunistic hitting.
For most of the past two months, that was the Dodgers. But after losing to the Boston Red Sox 8-1 on Sunday, they realized that being prepared is critical to their success down the stretch and in the postseason.
“It’s a good little lesson for us,” manager Don Mattingly said. “If we’re going to be fortunate enough to do anything or get anywhere, that’s the kind of pitching you’re going to see. You’re going to see teams with game plans, with veteran pitching that know what they’re doing. You better have a game plan when you go up there.”
Former San Diego Padre Jake Peavy held the Dodgers to three hits and just one run, a solo shot in the fourth inning by Adrian Gonzalez. But in losing two of three games to the Red Sox, the Dodgers were out-hit 22-11 and outscored 12-5.
Peavy, who hadn’t faced the Dodgers since 2009, has a career 14-2 record and 2.21 ERA in 25 starts against them.
The seven-run margin of defeat was the Dodgers’ largest since a 16-1 loss to the Phillies on June 28. They hadn’t dropped a series since losing two of three at Pittsburgh from June 14-16. Since then, they had won 14 series and split four.
“You never want to lose two games in a row,” outfielder Carl Crawford said, “but we’ve just got to get back to what we do and put those two games behind us and get back to our winning ways.”
Their chances should be considerably better this week. Their next two opponents, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres, are a combined 39 games out of first place in their respective divisions. Even better, the Dodgers’ starters Monday and Tuesday against the Cubs will be Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, respectively.
“We’ve got our two horses coming up,” Crawford said. “We definitely feel good about our chances when they’re on the mound.”
Peavy, a familiar opponent from his San Diego days, pitched a complete game. Other than Gonzalez’s homer, he allowed just one base runner as far as second and walked only one.
“Their whole staff did a nice job,” Mattingly said. “They didn’t average more than 10 pitches an inning. Every one of their guys was in the game deep on us with low pitch counts.
“To me, they got ahead in the count and they pitched to a game plan. If you don’t understand what they’re trying to do, they’re going to wear you out.”
Peavy had a 1-0 lead after one, but it came with the help of a bad call by first-base umpire Brian Knight, who ruled Dustin Pedroia safe on an infield grounder to short. It followed a one-out double by former Dodger Shane Victorino, who scored on a ground-rule double by Mike Napoli.
“I felt like the score could have easily been one or two runs on their side tonight, but Dustin Pedroia leads the league in infield hits for a reason,” Dodgers starter Chris Capuano said. “He runs hard out of the box and was able to make it close.”
Capuano pitched six innings, but the Dodgers bullpen couldn’t keep the Red Sox down. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Victorino and Napoli all homered off relievers in the final four innings.
“These guys grind out every at-bat,” Capuano said. “They don’t give anything away, they play great defense, and they’ve got some great pitchers.
“That’s like a playoff series for us right there, so it’s a good test.”
It’s certainly one the Dodgers will want to file away for later review. Perhaps in October.
“We might face them again,” Crawford said. “We’ll know to be ready next time.”