“We know we have, top to bottom, the best lineup in baseball,” the Dodgers outfielder said Sunday afternoon.
He had no choice, however, but to acknowledge the reality of the team’s opening-series loss to the Colorado Rockies, too.
“We didn’t show that this weekend,” he said.
Indeed, the Dodgers’ highly anticipated 2022 campaign opened with a dud at Coors Field. Despite a few bright spots from the bottom of the lineup and parts of the bullpen, sloppy play in the field and surprising struggles at the plate conspired to drop the Dodgers to a 1-2 start to the season.
After a loss in Sunday’s rubber match, manager Dave Roberts wasn’t sounding any alarms but didn’t pull any punches in his evaluation of the series either.
“We didn’t play good baseball,” he said. “I thought we pitched well, at times. We weren’t good situationally, as far as when we had guys on base, to cash runs in. Defensively, on the bases, I just don’t think that we played our type of baseball this series.”
Here are five takeaways from the season-opening series.
Quiet at the plate
The Dodgers scored five runs in the fourth inning of Friday’s opening day win. They scored just six more the rest of the series.
It wasn’t the debut the Dodgers were expecting from an offense that includes seven All-Stars and three former MVPs, not after they spent the spring visualizing how good they could be.
While they had 25 hits, only four went for extra bases. They weren’t great situationally, beating six for 23 with runners in scoring position. Most of all, they struggled mightily against the Rockies’ bullpen, managing just one run in 13 innings.
“I still don’t think we’re, top to bottom, swinging the bats as well as we can,” Taylor said.
Some of the team’s biggest stars got off to the coldest starts. Mookie Betts was three for 14 with two RBIs but also a team-high five strikeouts. Freddie Freeman was two for 12 and didn’t drive in a run. Trea Turner and Justin Turner went each three for 13. Will Smith and Max Muncy each accounted for only one hit.
Three games, of course, is a tiny sample size — especially after a lockout-shortened spring training. Still, Roberts couldn’t pinpoint one reason for his team’s early offensive issues.
“I know that we had opportunities, but every at-bat was different,” he said. “Whether it was a swing and miss in the zone, whether it was a chase out of the zone, whether it was maybe a couple lineouts. But I think a lot of times, we just didn’t finish at-bats when we could have.”
The lone Dodgers’ lone victory of the series included a promising first, with new closer Craig Kimbrel earning a save Friday in his Dodgers debut.
The hard-throwing right-hander, who was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for AJ Pollock near the end of spring training, gave up a run in the outing but also registered two strikeouts.
Another important note from his performance: He threw his curveball on nine of 21 pitches.
Kimbrel said Saturday that the curveball will be key for him this season. It’s a pitch he has used with increased frequency over his career, as his fastball has lost a few ticks and hitters have gotten better at attacking velocity up in the zone.
When he’s able to be aggressive and throw the curveball for strikes, “it changes the at-bat and approach,” Kimbrel said. “It changes everything.”
Kimbrel says he believes it explains his roller-coaster performance in 2021, when he went from being one of the best relievers in baseball over the first half of the season with the Chicago Cubs, to struggling down the stretch following a trade to the White Sox , where he was used as a set-up man.
“I think it kind of put myself into a hole,” said Kimbrel, who threw the curveball a career-high 40.7% of the time in 2021. “I had outings where I got out of it and threw just fine. And other ones that weren’t so well.”
To that end, Friday was a good start. While he gave up an RBI double with the curve — a “good pitch to hit” he was still regretting a day later — he got both his strikeouts with the pitch, as well.
“It was just getting the ball over the plate,” he said. “I was able to attack and be effective with my breaking pitches. … There’s positives there.”
Lux getting an opportunity
The Dodgers traded for Kimbrel not only to add to the bullpen, but also to clear playing time for young players such as Gavin Lux.
Through the first weekend, Lux is taking advantage.
The former first-round pick started all three games against the Rockies — twice at second base and once in left — and went for three with two RBIs, two walks and no strikeouts.
“Gavin is doing exactly what we’ve talked about,” Roberts said. “Being a SOB in the batting order, in the batter’s box. Fighting and scratching and clawing. He’s doing it. And if he does that, it’s gonna be a fun year for Gavin.”
Lux recognizes the opportunity in front of him, especially after he failed to earn an everyday role last season.
“It’s the first time for sure that I’m going to have runway and some leash,” he said. “For me, it’s definitely an opportunity that I have to take advantage of and just have fun playing.”
The 24-year-old also said he learned from his struggles in 2021, recognizing he doesn’t need to press to help contribute to a loaded lineup.
“If you look at the guys one through eight in front of me, I don’t have to do a whole lot,” Lux said. “I think for me, it’s about being who I am and not trying to do too much, like I have in the past.”
Rotation at DH
In their first series with a permanent designated hitter, the Dodgers made it clear they won’t be sticking the role on any one player.
Instead, the team had a different name in the spot each day: Justin Turner on Friday, Edwin Ríos on Saturday and Muncy on Sunday.
Roberts said it’s how the Dodgers are planning to proceed, adding it’s unlikely that any player would be in the spot on consecutive days.
“To be quite honest, I don’t think it’s ideal for any of our players, because they haven’t done it very often,” Roberts said.
Roberts did say that Justin Turner, Muncy and Smith probably will get the most time in the role — with Turner and Muncy alternating between that and third base, and Smith rotating in on days he isn’t behind the plate.
“I think if you asked each guy, would they rather play in the field or DH, they would rather play in the field,” Roberts said. “But that’s just not feasible.”
The addition of the DH did have a positive effect on the Dodgers in the opening weekend. Where a pitcher once used to occupy the ninth spot, the team’s No. 9 hitters combined to go four for nine with two walks and a home run in the series.
Bulk relievers impress
The Dodgers carried 11 relievers to start the season, in part to protect against short starts typical for Coors Field.
As it turned out, they didn’t need that many. Not with the way Tyler Anderson and Mitch White pitched as bulk relievers.
On Saturday, Anderson gave up one run in four innings. White followed that up with a one-run, 3 ⅔-inning appearance Sunday.
Though the Dodgers didn’t win either game, the performances were positive signs for a team with questions surrounding the bottom half of their rotation.
Anderson, a seven-year veteran who has been a starter for most of his career, was particularly impressive, solidifying his place as the next man in line if the Dodgers at some point need another starter.
“I think for Tyler, it’s important to give him some semblance of projection, what’s going to happen, routine,” Roberts said, noting that for the time being, Anderson will stay lined up to piggyback off of starts from Tony Gonsolin or Julio Urías . “But outside of that, just keep trying to build him up. It’s important to do that. And see where that takes us.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.