Sunday, June 16, 2024

Swanson: Only something truly substantial could knock these Dodgers off course

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LOS ANGELES — You know it’s going to take something truly and seriously substantial to knock these Dodgers off track.

Something much more than, say, miscommunication in the outfield. More than a Mookie Betts error. A Betts day off. More than Freddie Freeman hitting .295 instead of .300-something. More than a season-long Chris Taylor conundrum.

More any bobblehead-induced hassle to dim the vibe at Dodger Stadium, where on Sunday the majority of the announced sellout crowd of 52,656 was still here to witness Shohei Ohtani’s first walk-off hit with his new team in a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

It’ll take much more than Sunday’s badly defended bunt to slow these Dodgers, who remain on a regular ol’ regular-season roll, winners of 20 of their past 26 games. They’re 32-17 and eight games ahead of the second-place San Diego Padres in the National League West standings.

It’ll take more to slow this roll than a stellar outing from L.A. native Hunter Greene, the Reds’ hard-throwing hurler who is coming into his own after being selected No. 2 overall in 2017 out of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High. The right-hander held the Dodgers to two runs in 6⅓ innings on Sunday, but it takes more than that to beat them. This time of year, it does.

More even than a rotating bullpen door, with 18 relievers having walked through in fewer than 50 games so far – including Anthony Banda, the newest guy.

The 30-year-old left-hander – acquired Friday from the Cleveland Guardians on Friday for cash – met Manager Dave Roberts a few hours before Sunday’s matinee. You can learn “a lot about a player and a person,” Roberts said after he’d plugged in Banda with a game in the balance, insisting he walk out there onto the hot coals in the 10th inning with Elly De La Cruz revving at second base – where the Reds’ furiously fast extra-inning free runner stayed.

Because Banda went and retired the side in order, setting the table for Ohtani.

“It’s obviously elite players here … but it’s just trusting your stuff,” said Banda, bespectacled and impressively tattooed. “The first message they told me, ‘Hey, be yourself here. We got you for a reason, we love you.’ So that broke the ice for me, and I went out there and did my thing.”

The Sho goes on, I guess you could say.

Or perhaps: “SHO’S OVER, GO HOME” (@Dodgers); “A SHO STOPPER” (@MLB); “It’s Sho-ver” (@Wittman7). Or, as Lupe Fiasco raps every time Ohtani approaches the plate here: “Just remember when you come up, the show goes on …

And the Dodgers’ winning machine chugs on, immune to bumps in the road, headwinds or hiccups. For more mortal clubs, molehills might as well be mountains. Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong, will. (Ask Ohtani’s old club.)

For the deep and talented and collected Dodgers, it’s the opposite. What can go wrong … will not even matter. Not this time of year.

They’re leading baseball in OBP (.340) and OPS (.773). Hits (430) and RBIs (245). Opponents’ batting average (just .213).

So it’s going to take something more substantial than any of the would-be adversity they’ve experienced so far to nudge these Dodgers off course.

What might do it? The calendar could.

Something like a days-long, time-killing, timing-killing interruption between the regular season and the start of postseason play for top seeds, like the Dodgers again figure to be.

Something like the monstrous pressure at the end of the book.

Playoff tension that will define this superteam, that will determine whether this show – this Sho? – gets rave reviews or gets panned again, added to the annals of disappointment, the fact that after 11 consecutive playoff appearances, 10 ended without a title.

That’s the real test these Dodgers are plowing toward, one day and one predictable victory at a time.

Everything before that? All this in-season success? Important still. Crucial confidence- and chemistry-building reps, good practice for the real test – for that whole different ballgame, with which the Dodgers are again on a collision course, looking utterly unshakeable again. At this time of the year.

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