Thursday, June 20, 2024

Alexander: Dodgers sweep of Braves … is it a statement?

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  • Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) celebrates with...

    Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) celebrates with first base coach Clayton McCullough (86) after a single during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani is out at second ahead of a throw to Atlanta Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia, right, during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. Freddie Freeman grounded in to a force out. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani is out at second ahead of a throw to Atlanta Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia, right, during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. Freddie Freeman grounded in to a force out. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs the bases after hitting a home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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    Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs the bases after hitting a home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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LOS ANGELES — The two best teams in the National League this season were in The Ravine this weekend. (And don’t @ me, Phillies or Brewers or Cubs fans, because you should all have a pretty good idea who’s who by the time September arrives.)

And yes, the Dodgers and Braves eyed each other warily this weekend during a series that had, if not postseason implications, at least a postseason atmosphere unusual for the first weekend of May.

So, at the end of a Dodger sweep that concluded with a 5-1 victory Sunday featuring another Shohei Ohtani power exhibition, two questions: Does this send a message going forward? And, Dodger fans, don’t you feel silly for having overreacted to that 5-9 stretch in mid-April?

Since a 6-4 loss at home to the Mets April 20, which assured L.A. of its third straight series loss, the Dodgers are 11-2. They ripped through Washington, Toronto and Arizona on a 7-2 road trip, and won in all kinds of ways this weekend against an Atlanta team that had the league’s best record (20-9) coming in.

The Dodgers won in 11 innings Friday night on rookie Andy Pages’ walkoff single, capping the first four-hit game – but in all likelihood not the last – of his young, promising career. They bludgeoned the Braves 11-2 Saturday night while Tyler Glasnow pitched another gem, and they were coldly efficient Sunday. Shohei Ohtani hit his ninth and 10th homers, including a 464-foot, 110.6 mph blast into the wind that landed above the tarp at the center field edge of the left field pavilion in the eighth inning. Teoscar Hernandez added a two-run shot and a great throw from right field to throw out Matt Olson at second base to begin the seventh, and James Paxton had his most solid outing as a Dodger to date.

All of which gave the home team … well, bragging rights for now. It is, remember, a long season.

Still, roughing up Atlanta ace (and Harvard-Westlake alum) Max Fried, who carried a 15-inning scoreless streak into the game and pitched six no-hit innings in his last start at Seattle, matters. Getting a perfect eighth inning out of Blake Treinen, in his first game action in 20 months, matters.

Getting some production out of Chris Taylor … ah, you can’t have everything. Taylor was in the lineup while Max Muncy rested Sunday, partly to, in manager Dave Roberts’ words, “find at-bats and runway for Chris to get untracked.”  Taylor was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Sunday and is now 4 for 54 (.074), with a .280 OPS. At what point does the runway close, anyway?

Oh, and the Dodgers lost their closer for while when Evan Phillips went on the injured list Sunday morning with a hamstring injury, suffered while running. It’s the second injury suffered by a reliever while doing pre-game running this week, after Ryan Brasier hurt his calf.

Wasn’t it longtime pitching coach Johnny Sain, years ago, who suggested that if running really did pitchers any good, Olympic sprinters could be 20-game winners? Maybe there’s something to that.

Paxton came into Sunday 3-0 with a 3.51 ERA but had gotten past the fifth inning once in five previous starts. Sunday he almost got through the seventh, and said afterward that the work between starts to regain some rhythm in his delivery was paying off.

Having another effective pitcher in the rotation, and one able to provide some length and reduce the burden on the bullpen, will not hurt. And the Dodgers get Walker Buehler back on a big league mound Monday night against Miami, for the first time since June of 2022. So the Dodgers’ feeling that the pitching pieces would fall into place as the season progressed seems to be, well, progressing.

For now.

Really, the sweep is helpful in terms of the standings – the Dodgers now have a 5½-game edge over San Diego in the NL West and get their next shot at the Padres over the weekend at Petco Park – but not much else. Who’s to say that by the next time they see the Braves, in early September in Atlanta, trades and/or callups might have transformed both these teams.

But there is this, as Roberts pointed out before the game: There are certain teams you know will be there down the stretch, barring catastrophe, and these are two of them. Another reminder: The Braves had the league’s best record when they arrived in Los Angeles.

“You could argue that they’re (the Braves) the best team on paper. Certainly you can,” Roberts said. “Obviously they’ve had a big loss in (Spencer) Strider (who underwent season-ending elbow surgery a couple of weeks ago). But it’s still a very talented team. That’s a team we definitely look at potentially seeing in October, if we’re fortunate.”

A cautionary note: That assumes one or both can successfully get by the Division Series. Under the new format with a first-round bye, neither has done so the last two years.

But what did this series tell Roberts about his own team?

“The thing that it speaks to is, if we pitch well, (we) can keep any team at bay,” he said. “And with our offense, every game is winnable. Early on, I just don’t think we were pitching to our capabilities. And right now, across the board on the pitching front, the run prevention side, we’re doing a great job of mixing and guys are making pitches.”

That was going to be the issue all along, while waiting for injured starters and relievers to get through the rehab process. Treinen’s back, Buehler will be back, and Phillips and Brasier shouldn’t be out that long.

But the length of the wait for Brusdar Graterol to return to the bullpen, for Clayton Kershaw to assume a place in the rotation – still apparently targeted for after the All-Star break – and for Bobby Miller’s shoulder inflammation to die down may be the most important developments of the Dodgers’ summer.

Because, as we all have been reminded frequently, it’s all about October. May is just window dressing.

jalexander@scng.com

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