The short season and expanded postseason field have combined to spread the illusion of playoff contention like spilled milk. The Dodgers have soured that illusion for the Colorado Rockies.
The Dodgers hit three home runs — including one by Mookie Betts to take over the National League lead with 16 — and set their season-high in hits and runs scored, pounding the Rockies 15-6 Friday night at Coors Field.
On Monday in San Diego, the Dodgers played a sloppy game, lost to the Padres 7-2 and saw their lead in the NL West shrink to 1 1/2 games. Since then, the Dodgers have won four in a row (two in San Diego, two in Colorado) by a combined score of 34-15, clinched a postseason spot and now home-field advantage in the best-of-three Wild Card Series.
“I think that was kind of a punch in the mouth and we responded well,” Betts said of the loss in San Diego.
“It’s — I don’t even know how many days away (the start of the postseason). But you can’t just turn it on in the playoffs. You have to play throughout the season the same way you’re going to play in the playoffs, that way nothing is new when the time comes.”
With only eight games left in the most irregular of regular seasons, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he expects the focus to be on finishing strong.
“It’s time to go. And our guys understand that,” he said. “I think you can see the focus, the intensity has heightened over the past few days. … I expect nothing else.”
There are certain expectations that come with a series at Coors Field. Friday was very much on brand.
The two teams combined for 28 hits, nine for extra bases (seven of those by Dodgers), 33 baserunners and 313 pitches thrown by 12 pitchers. Everyone in the Dodgers’ starting lineup had at least one hit, seven had more than one and all but A.J. Pollock scored at least once.
“Those guys all had good nights at the plate,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we gave away any at-bats tonight and that’s up and down the lineup. When we can do that collectively, I just don’t think there’s anybody better.”
The Dodgers were expecting the village approach to pitching, starting a starter (Alex Wood, displaced into a relief role since returning from a shoulder injury) but planning for a third bullpen game in the past six days.
A bullpen game at Coors Field can be as challenging as navigating an “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course while spinning plates. Blindfolded.
The seven-pitcher relief relay did not go off without a hitch for the Dodgers. Wood gave up a three-run home run to Josh Fuentes in the second inning. Dylan Floro and Jake McGee combined to give up three runs on four consecutive two-out hits in the sixth inning.
But the Dodgers’ offense washed away all those sins, scoring four runs or more in three separate innings.
Cody Bellinger and Gavin Lux each had two-run home runs in the second inning. For Bellinger, it was his first homer and first extra-base hit since August 30. He went on to add an RBI single and a double for only his second three-hit game of the season. Lux’s home run was estimated at 453 feet, making it the longest of the season by a Dodger.
“It’s a huge night for him obviously,” Roberts said of the life shown by Bellinger. “To get results, I know he’s going to sleep well tonight. But over the last few days, I think he’s been swinging the bat better. I’m just happy to see him smiling and laughing. Guys gravitate towards him. I just believe when he’s like that, good things happen on the baseball field for him.”
The Dodgers scored five more times in the fifth inning with Chris Taylor (two runs), Max Muncy, Bellinger and Pollock hitting consecutive run-scoring singles. Betts hit his home run during a two-run sixth and five hits (including a two-run triple by Betts) produced four more runs in the seventh.
“I don’t pay any attention to it,” said Betts, the 2018 American League MVP who is at the forefront of the NL MVP race this year. “I’m just doing what I can to win a World Series. I am who I am. Those things (awards), I think, come from playing the game. You can’t think about those things and think about the game as well.
“I just have one goal and that’s to win the World Series. Whatever comes, comes.”