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    Swanson: Dodgers’ hitters succumbing to the pressure again
    • October 10, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — Hey, batter, batter, batter!! Swing, batter, batter!!!

    Oh, sorry. Should we keep it down over here? Is that old sandlot refrain too much for this Dodgers ballclub, allergic as it apparently is to pressure?

    The Dodgers’ bullpen – especially the way Manager Dave Roberts pulled the levers in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 3 of their National League Division Series – has come through as well as anyone could have hoped.

    And their starting pitching has fallen as flat as anyone might have feared – Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller can claim a flabbergasting 40.50 ERA and a grand total of six outs.

    But their hitting …

    The Dodgers’ offense – allegedly their strong suit, their superpower – has no-showed, legit stood up every one of their fans who watched the first two games of this series. It’s setting up the second consecutive epic playoff fail, following last season’s 3-1 NLDS loss to the San Diego Padres – which featured the same sad theme: a lifeless offense.

    The same team that scored 906 runs this season has managed just two runs in each of their two playoff games against Arizona. The Dodgers are hitting a collectively putrid .159.

    Their two best players, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, a pair of NL MVP candidates, are 0 for 7 and 1 for 6 through two games, respectively.

    What, you thought you’d get more from guys who this season became the first 1-2 hitters in big-league history to both have at least 25 home runs and an OPS over .975?

    What, you expect the Dodgers will need those two to get going if they’re going to find a way to keep their season alive?

    “Yeah, I mean, they’re our two best players,” Roberts said. “I think that they know that, so it’s pretty much … the last thing I want to do, though, is be redundant in the sense of, ‘we need these guys.’ When you start getting into that kind of mindset, it’s just – in baseball and hitting, in particular – it’s just not helpful.”

    Betts echoed that refrain: “Can’t add more pressure; that makes it harder, it’s still the same game, have to go play and let the game dictate what goes on.”

    In other words, don’t play the ball, let the ball play you? Got it.

    You know all those cliches about pressure? How it’s diamond-making stuff, and how it can be a privilege – especially if you’re earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the trouble?

    You can’t pretend the pressure away. You can’t run from it, can’t hide.

    It’s always been there: Last year in the NLDS meltdown against the Padres, when a Dodgers team led again by Betts and Freeman, along with Trea Turner atop the lineup, scored just seven runs over the final three games on their way to a shockingly early exit for a club that had won 111 regular-season games.

    Especially because it was against an opponent that finished 22 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West standings, and because of how poorly Betts performed in that four-game series, going 2 for 14 with one RBI.

    And the pressure hasn’t gone away now, as they try to avoid a sweep against the Diamondbacks, who finished 16 games behind the Dodgers.

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    The Diamondbacks might not be the better team, but they’re playing better, as the adage goes. Their hitters have shown impressive discipline at the plate, a real commitment to their gameplan, unwilling to swing at bad pitches.

    The Dodgers have been so much less focused. Betts and Will Smith jumped at first pitches. Freeman spectated as strike three flew past him with runners on the corners in the fifth inning. Max Muncy waved at a third strike out of the zone in the eighth after having gone ahead in the count 3-and-0. And so on …

    The pressure isn’t dissipating, but the shock of it is. The Dodgers have won the NL West 10 of the past 11 seasons and have only the short-season 2020 championship to show for it, so I can forgive their fans for feeling numb about the Dodgers’ current predicament.

    We’ve seen this movie before, after all, and so we know, if there’s one thing these Dodgers know how to do is come up with a good story. It’s the endings they struggle with.

    Too much pressure.

    Dodgers star Mookie Betts watches from the dugout during the eighth inning of Game 2 of their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Betts and the Dodgers’ hitters are struggling mightily and are one of the reasons the team finds itself at the brink of elimination in the best-of-five series. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    ​ Orange County Register