After riding a wave over the first two months of the season, the Dodgers embarked on a nine-game road trip this week stuck in a backward current, seemingly swimming upstream amid a three-week slump.
They were floundering beneath a rash of injuries to their lineup and pitching staff.
They were being weighed down by untimely hitting and inconsistent pitching, especially from the bullpen.
They had seen their early cushion in the National League West washed away, after the San Diego Padres pulled even for the division lead Monday.
And while they remained safely in the playoff picture, their recent 7-11 skid was starting to feel like more than a blip.
“We’ve shown we can beat anyone, and we can lose to some other teams,” manager Dave Roberts said. “So we’ve got to play good baseball.”
On Tuesday night, his team obliged, taking a collective breath of fresh air with an 8-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
“It was nice to… come out and have a good start to the road trip,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who led the way with three hits, a walk and five RBIs.
“We executed our game plan and battled,” echoed shortstop Trea Turner, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a four-for-five performance. “It was just the total package tonight.”
Indeed, Tuesday was a reversal of some of the Dodgers’ recent troubling trends.
They took advantage of several opportunities with runners in scoring position, going three for eight in such situations.
Freeman had the two biggest hits: a two-run double in the third inning that negated a one-run deficit, and a three-run triple in the eighth, making him the third player on the team to eclipse 40 RBIs.
“We haven’t been swinging the bats very good for a couple of weeks,” Freeman said. “It’s not just situational hitting. It’s hitting in general. This is a hard game. If you put too much emphasis on one thing, you’re just going to be chasing it the whole time. “
While the Dodgers also got a solo home run from Will Smith and racked up 17 hits, second most in a game this season, their ability to manufacture a couple extra runs with sacrifice flies was key too.
Roberts said his favorite sequence of the game came in the fourth, when Justin Turner hit a double leadoff, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Eddy Alvarez and scored on a fly ball from Gavin Lux.
“We’re gonna slug,” Roberts said. “But those things right there win a lot of baseball games.”
The pitching made sure it did not go to waste.
Tony Gonsolin produced another solid effort, reclaiming the major leagues’ best record (9-0) and earned-run average (1.58) in a five-inning, two-run start. The Dodgers bullpen combined for four scoreless innings.
Now, the challenge will be for the Dodgers (41-25) to build momentum – something they’ve struggled to do, having not won more than two consecutive games since late May.
They have tough opposing pitching on the horizon, starting with hard-throwing right-handers Luis Castillo and Hunter Greene in the next two games against the Reds (23-44), then a three-game trip to Atlanta to face the streaking Braves this weekend.
They’re still trying to compensate for the absence of right field Mookie Betts, as well.
But at the outset of a tricky, nine-day, three-city swing, at least they plugged some holes and started paddling in the right direction again.
“Every night’s not gonna be perfect,” Trea Turner said. “But tonight was a good one, a good start for this road trip.”
Ferguson back on IL:
The Dodgers placed reliever Caleb Ferguson on the injured list with left forearm tendinitis. The move was retroactive to last Friday.
While Ferguson hadn’t given up a run in six appearances this season in his return from Tommy John surgery, he said he had been battling soreness for the last couple weeks.
Roberts said the soreness would have forced the team to be diligent with Ferguson’s workload. When factored in with the beginning of 20 straight games, and the need to trim the pitching staff by one to abide by MLB’s new 13-pitcher maximum that went into effect this week, the club decided it would be better to place Ferguson on the IL .
“Caleb is obviously a great competitor and he’s not too thrilled going back on the IL, given all he’s had to go through to get back,” Roberts said. “But his return to play, I do not see being very long.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.