SAN DIEGO - Dave Roberts did not flinch. With his club nursing a two-run lead in the ninth inning against the punchy San Diego Padres Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager gave the ball to the man he says he still trusts to close games. He went to Kenley Jansen.
For a few moments, Jansen appeared in control. The right-hander got Fernando Tatis Jr., a favorite to win the National League MVP award, to ground out to pull within two outs. Then things went sideways. Manny Machado lined a single. Mitch Moreland blooped a single to center field with help from AJ Pollock's slow jump. He walked Austin Nola to load the bases.
Wil Myers was next and Jansen found a rhythm, striking him out on three pitches. Then, six pitches later, he got Jake Cronenworth to whiff for strike three to preserve the 3-1 win at Petco Park. Three days after being charged with five runs without getting an out against the Houston Astros, Jansen earned his 11th save. The Dodgers' lead in the NL West grew back to 2.5 games with 11 games remaining after Monday's late-inning collapse in the series opener. The Padres' winning streak ended at eight.
The Dodgers' dugout, hushed the night before, roared to life with Edwin Rios' flick of the wrist in the fifth inning Tuesday. The roars echoed through the hollow ballpark while Rios completed his galloping trot around the bases after depositing a sinker from Zach Davies over the right-field wall for a solo home run. Rios had padded the Dodgers' slim margin and amplified the energy.
Tony Gonsolin made sure the lead sustained with the best start of his major-league career. Gonsolin muzzled the punchy Padres over a career-high seven innings. He allowed one run on four hits despite only recording two strikeouts. He didn't issue a walk and threw 90 pitches.
The Dodgers offense, a potent operation that has produced the third-most runs in the majors this season, received a boost Tuesday: Justin Turner returned to the lineup after missing 14 games because of a strained hamstring. Turner batted third as the designated hitter - he won't play third base for at least three days - and provided an immediate impact.
The veteran went 3 for 4 and knocked in the game's first run with an RBI single to right field. He then lofted a two-out single in the third inning. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger drove him in with a single.
It was Bellinger's first RBI since Aug. 30 - a stretch of 11 games - as he plods through another deep slump. The reigning MVP entered Tuesday batting .170 with a .550 OPS in his previous 14 games. On the season, he had a .215 batting average and .707 OPS.
The recent struggles prompted manager Dave Roberts to drop him from the cleanup spot in the batting order; Bellinger batted sixth for four straight games before hitting fifth Tuesday.
But he isn't the only left-handed slugger underperforming for the Dodgers (34-15) in 2020. Joc Pederson struck out and grounded into a double play in his two at-bats Tuesday to sink his batting average to .174. He's 2 for 31 in his last 11 games.
Max Muncy, meanwhile, was given Tuesday off as a mental break. The 2019 All-Star is batting .198 with 52 strikeouts. On Monday, he made two defensive miscues at first base in a disastrous seventh inning. He owns a 0.0 WAR, making him the equivalent of a replacement-level player.
Does Dave Roberts believe the Dodgers can win a World Series without at least two of them reversing their struggles?
"No, I don't. I don't," the manager said. "I think those three guys are a big part of our lineup. So, to have them not get on track, it'd be very difficult."
The diminished benefits of winning the division and earning the No. 1 seed was confirmed Tuesday when Major League Baseball announced its unprecedented postseason format. The top four seeds each league will host the first round, a three-game series, at their ballparks. The four winners on each side will then enter a bubble. The NL will play in Arlington and Houston. The American League will play at Dodger Stadium and Petco Park. The World Series will be held at Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers' new home.
"All three games will be played in the top four seeds' home park, but ... that's pretty much the only advantage," Turner said. "So, I guess all I can say about that is it's another 2020 thing, right?"
Wherever they play, the Dodgers need Turner 100% healthy, more production from their stable of left-handed sluggers, and Jansen to avoid trouble in the ninth inning to win their first World Series in 32 years.
The Dodgers fired at least four members of their pro scouting department, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, as part of broader downsizing across the organization. The Athletic first reported the cuts.
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