If Blake Snell is the caliber of ace the Dodgers will have to find a way to beat in the playoffs, then Wednesday night’s game doesn’t bode well for their World Series hopes.
Mookie Betts led off the first inning with a bloop single to left-center field, and the Dodgers didn’t get another hit off the veteran left-hander in a 6-1 loss to the San Diego Padres before a crowd of 41,810 in Chavez Ravine.
Snell, mixing a lively 96-mph fastball with a curve, changeup and slider, burnished his National League Cy Young Award credentials with a six-inning, one-hit, eight-strikeout, one-walk effort that improved him to 14-9 with a league-best 2.43 ERA.
Snell’s 217 strikeouts rank second in the NL behind Atlanta ace Spencer Strider (259), and he leads the majors in opponents’ batting average (.187). Betts, who also walked in the third, was the only Dodger to reach base against Snell.
“I mean, sometimes there’s nothing you can do,” Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor said, when asked how the Dodgers can beat guys like Snell in October. “I feel like we’ve done pretty well grinding guys down, but tonight, he was just good.
“He had all his pitches working. He’s having a good year for a reason–he’s got great stuff–and when he can throw any pitch in any count, it makes it tough.”
Padres right-hander Robert Suarez struck out the side in the seventh inning, right-hander Nick Martinez gave up one hit in a scoreless eighth, and left-hander Tom Cosgrove gave up a solo homer to Kolten Wong in the ninth.
The only other bright spot for the Dodgers (88-57), who rank second in the majors in runs, homers and on-base-plus-slugging percentage and lead baseball in walks, was that their magic number to clinch their 10th NL West title in 11 years was reduced to three with Arizona’s loss to the New York Mets.
And, barring a miracle, last-gasp push by the underachieving Padres for an NL wild-card spot, they won’t have to face Snell this October.
“When Blake is on, there are not too many teams that can put at-bats, put hits, together against him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He threw the breaking ball for a strike and down below the zone. He got a lot of swing-and-miss. He was getting ahead early. He had a good rhythm. It’s still a fastball that is 95-97 [mph]. We just couldn’t put anything together.”
Dodgers right-hander Ryan Pepiot, who replaced Julio Urías in the rotation last week after the left-hander’s arrest on suspicion of domestic violence, gave up four runs and six hits in six innings, striking out five and walking none, to fall to 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts.
Pepiot was dominant in his previous start at Miami last Thursday, retiring the first 20 batters before Josh Bell broke up his perfect-game bid with a two-out single in the sixth inning. Pepiot settled for seven shutout innings in a 10-0 win.
But two mistakes, both on 0-and-2 pitches, doomed him Wednesday night. Juan Soto belted a right-over-the-middle, 95-mph fastball for a solo home run to right field in the first inning, and Luis Campusano drove a middle-in, 84-mph changeup over the left-field wall for a three-run homer in the fourth.
“Just a couple pitches I want back,” Pepiot said. “I felt like I attacked the zone the whole time, but … two 0-2 homers just can’t happen. The Soto one, I tried to go up and in and missed over the middle. Right in his zone. Campusano put a good swing on a pitch that wasn’t down enough.”
Soto’s shot was his 30th homer, moving the outfielder into a select group of six players with multiple 30-homer, 100-walk seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The others: Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews and Jimmie Foxx.
Pepiot retired the next seven batters before Fernando Tatis Jr. doubled to left-center to open the fourth. Soto singled to right, putting runners on first and third, and Campusano hit a towering homer into the Dodgers bullpen for a 4-0 lead.
Pepiot was replaced to start the seventh by Joe Kelly, who was activated Wednesday after missing a month because of right-forearm inflammation.
Kelly walked two batters, gave up a one-out infield single to Eguy Rosario to load the bases and a two-out, two-run single to Tatis, whose broken-bat flare dropped in shallow right field for a 6-0 San Diego lead.
That was more than enough offense for the Padres on a night that Snell was virtually untouchable and the usually stout Dodgers offense went silent.
The Dodgers didn’t pass the Snell test Wednesday. Roberts can only hope they don’t fold against such aces in October.
“You just have to try to grind and get them out of the game, and hopefully they make a few mistakes,” Roberts said. “I think it’s a test [for the playoffs] in the sense that you’re facing an elite pitcher, but the preparation, the focus, the importance of every pitch, it’s hard to simulate that in the regular season.”