During the first inning of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 7-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Sunday, James Loney came to the plate with men on first and third, one out, one run in the books and hopes of maintaining an early rally. Instead, he grounded into a double play, a familiar sight for Dodgers fans. This was Loney’s 12th DP at-bat in 2102, tied for third-highest in the National League, despite 48 fewer plate appearances than anybody else in the top five. When it comes to manufacturing double plays with a bat, dude is a left-handed Swiss watch.
While this habit underscores Loney’s generally disappointing offense, he’s nonetheless a very credible defensive first baseman. He has made just four errors halfway through this season (tied for fifth in the National League) and that’s actually paced high by his standards. Because of that reliable leather, Loney’s presence in the lineup, while offering little punch, can still be justified. However, it’s often by just a thread, which means that listless bat provides him little margin for error to remain a useful Dodger.
The same can be said about the Dodgers as a whole, as demonstrated in harsh terms during the recent losses to San Diego.
Saturday, Kenley Jansen’s errant ninth-inning throw to prevent Everth Cabrera from stealing home allowed San Diego’s tying and winning runs in one fell -- and bizarre -- swoop. Sunday, six of the Friars’ seven runs were unearned, which is ridiculous enough to sound made up. Then again, if I told you the Dodgers made a whopping five errors that afternoon, those results would feel more realistic.
In either case, the Dodgers’ defense fell apart during inopportune moments. The two scenarios were wildly different, but nonetheless highlighted an inescapable truth. The Dodgers aren’t a team with enough pop to recover at will when things go haywire defensively. As a team, they average just 3.8 runs per game, 14th in the National League and 28th in the majors. Yes, a healthy Matt Kemp makes a difference, as demonstrated by the 4.3 runs averaged during the first half with him in the lineup. But that presence isn’t enough to juice the offense to a point that gaffes can’t easily come back to bite them.
“I feel like we can’t afford to make mistakes,” manager Don Mattingly said Sunday before backtracking slightly. “I shouldn’t say we can’t afford to make mistakes. You’re gonna make some mistakes. But we talk about it all the time. You want to limit the number of outs. A team gets 27 outs. You want to try and give them 27 outs. You start giving them 30, 33, 34, you’re in trouble.”
Jerry Hairston Jr., who made two costly seventh-inning throwing error during Sunday’s loss, downplayed the notion of L.A’s offensive struggles placing extra pressure on the team’s defense.
“I don’t know if that’s it,” the veteran infielder said. “There’s a lot of teams out there that aren’t gonna score nine runs a game. Unless maybe you’re the Yankees or something like that.
“In this game, things happen. You can’t play perfect. You just can’t.”
Hairston is obviously right, but some teams are more blessed than others to withstand imperfection in the field. And in the Dodgers’ case, the numbers clearly illustrate why they’re not among those with a guardian angel. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Dodgers are 29-22 this season when committing no errors. With just one error, the winning percentage falls to below .500 (10-11). And with two or more, they’re 9-9. Given how little the Dodgers often do with their own at-bats, it stands to reason they can’t afford to give an opponent extra trips to the dish.
“You try to make the plays you’re supposed to make,” Mattingly said. “Limit the number of chances they get. Don’t give them extra chances. [Sunday], we just gave them too many chances.”
On the plus side, a barrage of errors is hardly the norm. Before this weekend’s six, the Dodgers had committed 59, which would have them in a tie for 10th best in the league. Defense is a reason they’ve remained in playoff contention despite a slew of injuries and the aforementioned batting woes.
“Sometimes it comes in bunches,” Hairston said of the fielding mistakes. “Hopefully, you get the bad stretch out of the way and you turn the corner. I remember being on the 2009 Yankees, man. We played four or five in early September, we looked like the worst team ever assembled. ... We looked like a Little League team. We couldn’t do anything right. But then we were kind of laughing about it, saying, ‘Hey, let’s get it out of the way. And then we’ll go on a run.’ And lo and behold, we did that.”
Then again, smiles probably came easily in the face of trouble for those Yankees because they led the league in runs. The Dodgers paddle upstream in a considerably less powerful boat. With the trade deadline approaching, perhaps the cavalry will arrive in the form of a legitimate hitter or two. But until then, Hairston’s current squad must tighten up everywhere else in order to keep their playoff hopes intact.