No one can sum up the Dodgers’ ups and downs this week against the Pittsburgh Pirates quite like Justin Turner.
In Monday’s loss, the third baseman batted hard but came home empty-handed, stole from a dive on the left, a batting foul and a sharp first baseman blocked on a 3-pointer.
The next night, Turner scored a big win for the Dodgers, going 4-for-5 with three doubles and four RBIs in his — and offensively — best game of the season.
But on Wednesday, he and the Dodgers were back on the ground, and Turner excelled in the team’s rubber-game loss, reducing his batting average to just .194.
Lots of Dodgers hitters got off to a slow start this year, an early-season storyline for a team with a 20-9 National League-best record and leading the majors in every game, but a partial loss this week to A disappointing series for the Buccaneers because the plate was inconsistent.
Turner’s downturn, however, is the most concerning.
Like some of his other struggling teammates, Turner said he felt better about his swing on the trip, and hopefully he can rediscover a feeling that can break his opening month routine.
But the results have not been shown consistently.
“The good news is we won a lot of games,” Turner said. “So you’re going to keep trying, find a way to get into the base, or get in and help us win. At some point it’s going to start clicking. I’ve been here before. I know there’s another side to that.”
Below is a summary of Turner and the rest of the team.
Turner finds the right feel
Turner did experience slow starts before, with a career .750 batting average in April, well below his overall .830.
But even he usually doesn’t struggle like that.
In addition to an average of 0.194, his OPS is only 0.543. He had just one home run and a .291 slugging percentage. He has more than twice as many strikeouts (20) as walks (9).
“I think what’s different about this April is that there are a lot of out-of-season hitters,” Turner said. “A lot of chasing, a lot of weak touches.”
The last time Turner went under .200 on May 11 was in his first year with the Dodgers in 2014, a movement that quickly turned the tide and kicked off his nine-year storied career with the team.
Turner hopes the past week is the start of a similar rebound.
Although he was only 5-for-21 on the trip, he collected three of the heaviest pitches of the season and showed better discipline on the plate, with five straight games without a strikeout.
As a hitter, he describes his hitting process as “trial and error,” and he believes his swing feels better after tinkering with the mechanics during practice cage work and batting practice.
“It took me a while,” he said, “but I think I found something sustainable.”
The 37-year-old also dismissed any suggestion that age was a factor in his slow start, noting that the league’s offense has declined this year.
“I think it’s easy to point out in my situation,” Turner said. “But a lot of other people are going through it too. So what are these people’s excuses? I don’t think it’s fair to blame my age.”
However, until his production rebounds, those issues remain.
“Obviously, when it’s the first month, it looks uglier,” Turner said. “But you can’t really sit down and look at the scoreboard and feel sorry for yourself…you still come in every day and try to hone things.”
Other rebound candidates
Turner wasn’t alone in having a slow start to the year.
Going into Thursday, several other Dodgers regulars had OPS below 0.700, the clearest sign yet of their sluggish production:
— In the past 11 games, Trea Turner has calmed down and is batting just .195 in the past two weeks. Manager Dave Roberts said Turner was chasing too much on either side of the plate (Turner currently has a career-low touch rate on the field outside the box), and Turner said he has returned to where he wishes he had. The old batting routine that helped.
— Chris Taylor batted over .300 in late April, but has since looked a little uncomfortable with 24 of his past 45 at-bats.
— Cody Bellinger extended his NL Player of the Week honors last month by going 7-for-52 with 18 strikeouts in his past 14 games.
— Max Muncy continues to lead the majors with 25 walks, and his batting average is just .138. His most recent frustration came on Wednesday, when he batted out with full bases and froze mid-switch after expecting to see a fastball.
While the Dodgers still lead the majors in points per game (5.13), they also insist they’re not close to hitting the ceiling.
“A lot of people up and down our lineup said, ‘I’m not even close to where I need to be right now,'” Roberts said. “So, yeah, I don’t think we’re going all out.”
Rios takes a chance
One player this week did see the pinnacle of his game: Edwin Rios.
Before Tuesday, the Dodgers faced a string of seven-game winning streak left-handed starters, leaving the southpaw slugger on the bench for extended periods of time.
However, given the opportunity to play more games with the Buccaneers, Rios showed his best performance of the season. On Monday, he hit a key home run. On Tuesday, he hit three hits, including another homer and three RBIs. He completed a three-game winning streak Wednesday — finishing a 5-for-10 series with 7 RBIs and boosting his season scoring average to .303 in the process.
“I’m always excited to get in there and play,” said Rios, who started just five of his first 27 games with the Dodgers. “I feel like I’ve been repeating myself, but just staying prepared and ready to play.”
With the Dodgers in the throes of 31 games in 30 days, Roberts said he wanted to give Rios more consistent minutes.
“He’s ready,” Roberts said. “Obviously I see that and he’s getting more minutes for himself. Also, it certainly helps when you have someone you can plug in that you know will be efficient.”
Bullpen big mistake
After its stellar start, the Dodgers’ bullpen stumbled in Pittsburgh.
Going into the series, the team’s back-up WHIP ranked first in the majors, second in ERA and second in batting average.
However, in 11 innings against the Buccaneers, the group gave up nine games.
Wednesday’s performance was the most surprising, with lever releasers Tommy Kahnler, Daniel Hudson and Bruce Dale Gratroll all giving up runs in a close game.
“It’s definitely unusual,” Roberts said. “I think it’s the right people. We just didn’t execute. It’s baseball. It’s going to happen. But we’re going to get them out the rest of the way.”
The Dodgers’ bullpen still leads the league in WHIP (0.95), but is now fifth in ERA (2.94) and tied for second in batting average (0.195).
The Dodgers have been good on the road this year, but far less dominant at home.
At Dodger Stadium, the team is 10-2. After three trips, they are only 10-7 on the road.
When asked about Wednesday’s discrepancy, Roberts embraced the idea that the team will give the NL-leading and highest-spending Dodgers the best chance when they come to town — the manager cites a previous slide in the The Pirates as the latest example.
“It marked their calendar and they played really well,” Roberts said. “As long as I’m here in this uniform, people are going to do everything they can to beat us.”
“But,” Roberts added, “we have to figure out a way to win away. I hope we get better down the road.”