By Jon Weisman
Scott Kazmir went six innings. Ross Stripling went seven innings.
Suddenly, the Dodger starting rotation is starting to get more length. The only asterisk is that neither performance led to a victory.
Winning 23 of their first 36 games since Clayton Kershaw’s injury, the Dodgers have proven that starting pitching isn’t everything, and over the past two games, they’ve made that argument more perversely. Instead of winning without it, they’re losing with it.
Divide the Dodgers into four quadrants: starting pitching, relief pitching, offense and defense. In shorthand, you usually need three of those working for you to win a game, and in the absence of Kershaw, it’s usually been the latter three.
But on Wednesday, the bullpen allowed two inherited runs and three charged to Kenley Jansen, while the offense was held to a couplet in a 6-2 loss to Philadelphia.
After the off day Thursday, it was a rare defensive breakdown in the first inning and an odd run-scoring stall throughout the game that undermined the Dodgers in Friday’s 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Corey Seager, whose fielding displays this year have convinced observers of his ability to play shortstop, twice double-clutched on two throws to first base that allowed infield outs to become singles. There was also a potential double-play grounder that wasn’t converted. The result was three runs off Stripling in the first inning despite only two balls leaving the infield.
“That was a frustrating inning,” Dave Roberts told Jack Baer of MLB.com. “Quality of contact, Ross threw the ball well all night long. To his credit, he didn’t show any emotion, didn’t show his frustration. There’s only so much he can do right there.”
Stripling would go on to allow solo homers to Andrew McCutchen (who has three in five games against Los Angeles this year) and Jordy Mercer, but the five runs off Stripling belied how effective he was. He completed his seven innings in 92 pitches, walking none and retiring 11 in a row at one point.
The 26-year-old had his longest outing since the 7 1/3 no-hit innings of his MLB debut in April, giving the Dodgers only their third seven-inning performance since Kershaw last pitched June 26. Kenta Maeda (July 10) and Scott Kazmir (July 19) have the others.
“That’s huge for personal confidence and hopefully we can keep doing that,” Stripling said, according to Baer.
Jesse Chavez pitched the final two innings for the Dodgers, who used only two arms in a game for the first time since … yes, the last Kershaw game. After allowing five earned runs in his first 2 1/3 innings as a Dodger, Chavez has thrown 5 1/3 shutout innings with no walks and six strikeouts this week.
The Dodger offense had several opportunities to bail Stripling out, but struggled to convert hits into runs in a manner that even the most cynical Dodger fan would objectively have to admit was unusual.
Not since August 25, 2008 had the Dodgers been held to one run or less when they had at least 12 hits. It hadn’t happened before the home crowd at Dodger Stadium since 1992, It hadn’t happened in a nine-inning home game since 1972.
But that was the Friday fate of the Dodgers, who depending on your point of view benefited or failed to take advantage of the fact that the Giants, Marlins and Cardinals also lost, rendering the relevant division and wild-card races static.