The Milwaukee Brewers finished off their win over the San Francisco Giants on Monday night during the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers were three outs from ending the day a game closer to the first-place Giants.
It was on Blake Treinen to protect a two-run lead and seal a win over the Atlanta Braves, to make sure the Dodgers didn’t blow an opportunity for the third time in four days to gain ground. Closer Kenley Jansen was unavailable after pitching the previous two days. Manager Dave Roberts had double-switched Treinen into the game in the eighth inning with the ninth in mind, removing Mookie Betts as part of the move. The Dodgers were rolling with him.
Two one-out singles amplified the tension, but Treinen retired the next two batters to complete the 5-3 win and move the Dodgers to within 1½ games of the Giants in the National League West with 30 games to go in the regular season.
The Dodgers (83-49) erupted for five runs on four home runs off left-hander Drew Smyly in the first three innings, a surge that held up over the final six. Julio Urías gave up two runs across six innings — the first time he has logged at least six innings since July 21 — and became the first pitcher to reach 15 wins in the majors this season.
“I was aware of what was going on,” Roberts said of the Giants’ loss. “But that’s just part of being a competitor, which we all are, and being a fan, which we all are.”
The Dodgers took the field Monday with the major leagues’ second-best record, 11 games ahead of the Braves in the NL standings. But those standings don’t matter in Major League Baseball’s playoff structure. Division standings are supreme, and geography renders the Dodgers’ better success moot.
The Braves (70-60), not the Dodgers, are in line to avoid the win-or-go-home NL wild-card game scheduled for Oct. 6. That’s because the Dodgers play in the NL West, the same division as the Giants, owners of the majors’ best record, and the Braves play in the mess known as the NL East.
The Miami Marlins are bearing another rebuild, the Washington Nationals just blew up their roster, the New York Mets are busy booing their fans, and the second-place Philadelphia Phillies are exceedingly mediocre.
The Phillies were 4½ games behind the Braves, the only club in the NL East with a plus run differential, entering Monday. As a result, Atlanta has an easier ride to the NL Division Series. For the Dodgers, advancing that far is far from a guarantee even with a loaded roster boosted by Betts’ return from the injured list last week.
The addition of Betts created a logjam for the Dodgers. Four people for three outfield spots. Barring injury, one of Betts, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock will start most games on the bench almost every game for the rest of the season.
Roberts was initially vague about how the club planned to divvy up the playing time, but he confirmed the obvious answer Monday after Bellinger was left off the lineup card against Smyly: Bellinger will sit against left-handed starting pitchers.
“I think that we have other guys that have performed really well all year long against left-handers,” Roberts said. “I think it gives Cody a day to reset. When left-handers play, there might be times that I put him in there, but I think for the most part, I don’t see him against left-handers at this time.”
Bellinger, 26, has struggled overall this season, batting .171 with nine home runs and a .566 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 287 plate appearances after undergoing major offseason shoulder surgery and missing two months because of a fractured fibula earlier this season.
His splits are worse opposite left-handers. In 79 plate appearances against left-handers, he’s nine for 70 (.129) with a .428 OPS. Those numbers are expected for overmatched pitchers, not a former MVP making $16.1 million this year.
The Dodgers, as a result, are willing to sacrifice his elite defense in center field for a better offensive option. Offense was not a problem for the first three innings Monday.
Max Muncy clobbered a fat fastball from Smyly for a solo home run in the first inning to open the scoring. Will Smith, batting eighth, matched Muncy in the second.
Betts then led off the third inning with a homer on his bobblehead night before Corey Seager slashed a two-run home run the other way to make it 5-0 against Smyly.
“It was good to get off on that lead,” said Smith, who has homered in four of his last five games and is second on the team with 22 home runs this season.
The Braves responded with three solo home runs in the sixth and seventh innings from Jorge Soler, Freddie Freeman and Adam Duvall. The Dodgers, meanwhile, recorded one hit after the fourth inning. But they scored enough early. Treinen made sure of it.
Another step for Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw faced hitters Monday for the first time since landing on the injured list because of forearm inflammation July 7.
The left-hander opposed two minor league batters from single-A Rancho Cucamonga twice each. He threw 15 pitches, mixing in his fastball, slider and curveball. Roberts said Kershaw will next throw a bullpen session and a two-inning simulated game — if he rebounds well — before possibly getting activated.
“It was really good,” Roberts said. “I don’t even want to be cautiously optimistic. I think I’m optimistic. I’m excited. He’s excited. It was one inning, but he let it go.”
Kershaw pitched between two innings from Tony Gonsolin. The right-hander was put on the injured list because of shoulder inflammation July 31. Roberts said “a three-inning stint at an affiliate is in his near future.”
The Dodgers optioned Mitch White and activated fellow right-hander Evan Phillips from the injured list before Monday’s game. … The Giants placed left-hander Alex Wood, a former Dodger, on the COVID-19 list Monday after utility man Donovan Solano tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Johnny Cueto also felt ill and was scratched from his start Monday, but the Giants said he tested negative for COVID. San Francisco hosts the Dodgers for a three-game series starting Friday night.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.