By Jon Weisman
The more things change … the more things change.
Zack Greinke faces the Dodgers tonight for the first time since he came with the Milwaukee Brewers to Los Angeles on May 31, 2012. That night, the Dodgers offered this starting lineup:
Elian Herrera, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, 1B
Dee Gordon, SS
Chad Billingsley, P
One of those Dodgers is in tonight’s starting lineup. Another is on the bench. A third is on the disabled list. That, plus Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, is all that remains to link that Dodger team and this one, four years later.
Pitching for a team that had a 22-28 record, Greinke’s Brewers defeated the 32-18 Dodgers, 6-2. Then 28, Greinke allowed 10 baserunners in six innings but only one run. Two months later, he would be traded to the Angels for three players, one of whom is his starting second baseman and leadoff hitter tonight, Jean Segura.
Four months and two weeks after that, Greinke would sign a free-agent deal with the Dodgers, for whom he had a 2.30 ERA across 92 starts and 602 2/3 innings, plus a 2.38 ERA in six postseason starts totaling 41 2/3 innings. That association lasted three years, until a last-minute bid snagged the free agent for Arizona.
At 28-37, Arizona in 2016 is even worse than Milwaukee in 2012, and Greinke’s initial 2 1/2 months with the Diamondbacks have been up and down. He had a 4.71 ERA at the end of May, and even to this day hasn’t had more than two consecutive quality starts all year. He has allowed seven runs twice, and four runs in six innings three other times.
He will greet the Dodgers, however, on his biggest roll of the season — with 16 consecutive scoreless innings to start the month of June, albeit with another inconsistency: 11 strikeouts in seven innings June 2 at Houston, followed by two strikeouts in nine innings June 7 vs. Tampa Bay.
The Dodger team he will face this time around, over the past two weeks, has a .267 on-base percentage, .330 slugging percentage and .597 OPS — going 6-7 in those 13 games despite a 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in that stretch — and is completely aware how inadequate that kind of offense is. From Doug Padilla of ESPN.com:
“I think we need to be more consistent, that’s for sure,” said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who is batting .171 (6-for-35) since the start of June. “But having said that, we have guys that haven’t gotten going yet, so hopefully things will start rolling and they start soon and we won’t be talking about this.”
Yet nobody is naive enough to think Greinke is the avenue to take in order to get going offensively.
“First time seeing Zack, I’m sure he’s going to be up for us,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Knowing Zack, I’m sure he spent a lot of time breaking us down, trying to figure out how he’s going to attack each guy. Huge challenge.”
Like Greinke, the Dodgers’ starter tonight is facing his former team, though with much less fanfare. Mike Bolsinger actually held Arizona to two runs in his first 14 innings against them in 2015, before a three-run inning in his most recent encounter September 12 marred that ledger.
Bolsinger’s problem this year has been his inability to avoid a bad inning, though it has never been the same inning.
The 2016 Dodgers have been on the cusp of success, all of the past week and all year. They have played five consecutive one-run games, losing three. For the year, they are five games out of first place in the National League West, and they have lost five more one-run games than they have won.
That, in a sense, is their season so far. It is not that the Dodgers aren’t competitive. It’s that their opponents are.