Dodgers manager Dave Roberts compared this weekend’s series at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox to a playoff atmosphere.
If so, the team better hope that, when the real postseason begins, they play more like they did in Friday’s series-opening win than Saturday’s 8-5 loss.
If Friday showed all the ways the Dodgers can excel come October, Saturday revealed some of their lingering weak spots.
They got an ineffective outing from Julio Urías, who gave up six runs in six innings to snap his recent run of strong starts.
They couldn’t capitalize on several late opportunities at the plate, squandering bases-loaded opportunities in the eighth and ninth.
And they lost their temper in a sold-out, amped-up environment, with Roberts and Max Muncy getting ejected after the eighth inning ended on a missed third strike call.
Extrapolating too much for a late August series, of course, can be a tenuous exercise — especially from a series defined by long-awaited homecomings and emotional reunions between several players, Mookie Betts and Justin Turner chief among them, and their old teams.
Nonetheless, Saturday put the first-place Dodgers in one of the higher-pressure situations they’re likely to face as they run out the rest of the regular season.
And though they remain a stellar 20-4 in the month of August, and miles ahead of the rest of the division, there were lessons to be learned about the state of their team.
Urias’ performance was the biggest subplot.
For five innings, the left-hander was cruising, holding the Red Sox (69-61) to just two runs while racking up eight strikeouts.
But then, in the bottom of the sixth, his outing fell apart.
Adam Duvall hit a three-run homer, getting just enough on his 353-foot fly ball to get over the Green Monster (Houston’s Minute Maid Park was the only other stadium it would have been a home run).
Urías was also punished for a rare lapse of execution, issuing an uncompetitive, five-pitch walk to Trevor Story in the at-bat immediately after Duvall’s blast.
“You can see, he wasn’t involved in that Story at-bat,” Roberts said. “He was pretty frustrated.”
That free pass — Urías first in three starts — led to the fourth run of the inning, an RBI single from Reese McGuire, and helped the Red Sox turn a 4-2 deficit into an insurmountable 6-4 lead.
“The team gave me the lead and I couldn’t keep it,” Urías said in Spanish. “Obviously that’s what hurts.”
The game was a microcosm of Urías up-and-down season, leaving last year’s Cy Young Award finalist with a career-worst 4.41 earned-run average this year, his last before entering free agency this winter.
At times, he has looked spectacular, including a four-start stretch leading up to Saturday’s contest in which he went 4-0 with a 1.44 ERA.
But for a Dodgers team that will need the 27-year-old, pending free agent to carry their rotation in the playoffs, Urías’ inconsistent production remains a troublesome subplot.
Despite that, the Dodgers (79-49) still almost rallied.
Trailing 7-4 entering the eighth, they got one run back on an RBI single from Betts (one of his three hits on the day). A Freddie Freeman walk in the next at-bat loaded the bases with only one out.
From there, however, the rally fizzled, with a couple of the team’s B-tier stars — the ones they’ll need to give their lineup balance in October — coming up empty in important spots.
Will Smith weakly flied out to shallow right field, continuing his August slump with an unproductive out.
Then, Muncy took his controversial third strike, rung up on an 0-and-2 splitter that was well below the strike zone.
Muncy initially survived a two-handed heave of his bat, but was eventually ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker after continuing to argue the call.
“I told him the ball was down, to which his response was, ‘You threw your bat,’ and that kind of locked me up a little bit,” Muncy said. “So then I just responded with, ‘I need you to lock it in in a big situation like that.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, OK’ and threw me out.”
Roberts was also tossed after running on the field and objecting to the call, earning his first ejection of the season.
The Dodgers had one last chance in the ninth, when Betts came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, representing the potential go-ahead run.
His last-gasp drive to center wasn’t deep enough, however, snapping the Dodgers three-game winning streak — and giving them an early taste of the challenges they could face come October.
“We’ve had a lot of tough losses, stretches where we haven’t played well, and responded,” Roberts said. “It’s a good environment. But we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”