“No matter how good you are, I don’t think any team ever expects to play that good for that long,” said the Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. “You expect to have a little dip. At the same time, when you do have that dip, you can usually figure out a way to sneak out a win. On both ends of the spectrum, I never would have expected that.”
Kershaw had the Dodgers’ only victory in their miserable run. In the 16 losses, the starters had a 7.11 earned run average and averaged about four and a third innings per game. The Dodgers lost all 10 games they played against the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, who are on track to meet in the National League wild-card playoff game on Oct. 4. If the standings hold, the Dodgers will play the winner in a division series.
“Something happened over there where Arizona has learned a whole bunch about them, and we know nothing about them,” said Dusty Baker, the manager of the Nationals, the N.L. East leaders. His team was facing the Dodgers for the first time since early June. “So I think it’s great that we’re playing them this late. Even if they learn something on us, we learn a whole bunch about them.”
If nothing else, it seems the Dodgers’ losing streak punctured the aura of invincibility they had built up around the majors — and, perhaps, within their clubhouse. They finally won a series again this week, taking two of three from the lowly San Francisco Giants, but now they know they cannot simply cruise to a championship.
“I think it just kind of reminded us that it’s not a guarantee,” shortstop Corey Seager said. “It’s understanding that we still have to go out and perform, we still have to do the job and it’s not going to be handed to us. I think that’s what it did for us.”
Third baseman Justin Turner said it felt like a big deal when the Dodgers finally snapped their streak behind Kershaw on Tuesday. When they won the next day, he said, things seemed back to normal. Their scorching pace for most of the summer was not normal at all.
“We had a lot of good wins where we were challenged in the game, but the results were always easy,” Turner said. “Going through that stretch there, losing 16 of 17, I think it was good for us. It put our backs to the wall a little bit. Had some adversity, had to deal with some things. I would have liked, personally, for us to deal with it a little sooner than we did, but I think it was good to get punched in the face and figure out how to handle it.”
To be sure, the losing exposed a few flaws. Three All-Stars — Turner, starter Alex Wood and starter Yu Darvish, who was acquired July 31 in a trade with the Texas Rangers — have regressed, though Darvish won on Wednesday and Wood on Friday, when Turner hit his 20th homer. The setup men for closer Kenley Jansen have hardly been automatic. Curtis Granderson has hit .107 since his trade from the Mets, and the bottom of the lineup has struggled.
Roberts said he was not worried because the team’s mentality and effort were sound. But the Dodgers’ torrid pace had brought out the best in their opponents, he said, and the team had become frustrated by the losing.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of stuff going bad all at once,” Turner said. “I don’t think there was any real panic about it, but there was definitely a sense of some urgency in the clubhouse to be a little more accountable and maybe try to play a little better individually, from everyone in the room, to change those results.”
The wins in San Francisco restored a sense of order to the Dodgers’ world, and brought them back to the site of their most recent postseason triumph: a Game 5 thriller in their division series with the Nationals last October.
The Dodgers’ season ended in the next round against the Chicago Cubs, who went on to win the World Series. As the Dodgers strive to succeed the Cubs, they have learned an important lesson.
“It’s hard to win a major league game,” Roberts said. “I think we made it a little bit harder than it could have been.”