LOS ANGELES — Everything the Dodgers touch turns to gold; just about everything the Angels touch turns to something else.
We’ve been living a Bizarro bit of baseball in Los Angeles and “Los Angeles.” It might not shock you that the boys in blue are going so good they’ve exceeded expectations while the Halos try just to keep the sky from crashing all the way down in Anaheim. Not if you’ve been paying any attention to the Dodgers’ dominant last decade while the Angels kept whiffing on the playoffs.
Even accounting for recent history, the way the clubs have practically beelined for opposite poles since the Aug. 1 trade deadline has been remarkable. Especially because we were congratulating the Angels for making moves to meet the moment and criticizing the Dodgers for not doing enough to move the needle.
Yeah, ’bout that.
Pick a category, any category, and it tells the stories: One is an old, reliably motivational tale. The other is a tragedy, with a few teasing points of light sprinkled in – like Wednesday’s 2-0 victory, a near-no-hitter, against the American League West-leading Rangers in Texas.
Yin. The Dodgers are 14-1 in August and running away with the National League West – tacking on a 10th consecutive win with Wednesday’s 7-1 result against the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium. More of the same from the Dodgers, who do this every year: In nine division title-winning seasons in the past 10 years, they’ve gone 159-91 (.636) in August.
Yang. Despite Reid Detmers’ 7⅓ no-hit innings in Wednesday’s win, the Angels have lost 11 of their past 15 games, many of them handily.
Night. Angels manager Phil Nevin’s obscene dugout tirade on Monday during his club’s unfocused, error-filled 12-0 loss to Texas. Ohtani looking like he was trying to blink back tears in the dugout after the Angels gave up a ninth-inning grand slam that wiped out their 3-1 lead in a loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Day. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gushing constantly about how much he loves his current club, calling them the favorite he’s coached. All the Dodgers waving their arms and doing the “Freddie wiggle” dance from second base. That fan who named his daughter after the Mookie Betts – Francesca Mookie Mancuso – carrying through his promise that he would if Betts hit one out, which he did.
North. After their latest victory against the Brewers at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers have scored 99 runs this month, and they had a team ERA of 2.35 – second-best both.
Even their new guy, Lance Lynn – unheralded upon his arrival – has been taking care of business. He’s 3-0 in three starts since being traded to the Dodgers, with a tidy 2.00 ERA; that’s a sharp U-turn for the 36-year-old who arrived with a 6-9 record and 6.47 ERA with the Chicago White Sox.
South. The Angels having pushed across just 47 runs in August, when they have an ERA of 6.16, respectively third-to-last and last in the big leagues – and that’s with Shohei Ohtani pitching 10 scoreless innings and scoring 11 runs himself. And Wednesday’s shutout.
The Angels’ notable new guy, Lucas Giolito – he’d been among the best pitchers on the trade market, acquired by a team that was determined to make a playoff push with Ohtani and hoping, in the process, they could persuade the soon-to-be free agent to re-sign this offseason – hasn’t found the change of scenery helpful. He’s 1-3 with an 8.14 ERA in his first four outings with the Angels.
“Losing is a disease,” the diminutive psychologist droned on in an address to Roy Hobbs’ hapless New York Knights in the 1984 film, “The Natural.”
Ever seen that scene? “As contagious as polio,” the man went on. “As contagious as bubonic plague … attacking one but infecting all.”
Winning can be contagious too, though.
So, who knows, maybe the Angels – now 60-62 – will rip off a few victories? And get Mike Trout, Zach Neto, Logan O’Hoppe and Ben Joyce back from injury, go on a run and … maybe finish a few games shy of a wild-card berth. Close enough that their beleaguered fans can wonder what coulda been. What shoulda.
Dodgers fans, meanwhile, get to wonder what could be.
Could this team – free of the pressure that weighed so heavily on last season’s regular-season record-breaking unit – reach the World Series? If they can somehow avoid the Atlanta Braves, why not?
And if the Dodgers – now 73-46 – get that far, well, it’s baseball!
This team that’s shorter on experience than those in seasons recently past is tuned all the way into a winning frequency. The club with a suddenly stable starting pitching staff making up for the Dodgers’ inability to land any of their most desired trade targets, it’s got that winning bug.
“Like anything,” Roberts said before Wednesday’s game. “I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg, but if you have high-character guys who care for one another that play the right way, I do think that manifests good play and also fends off some of the lows. So the lows – the valleys – aren’t as deep or as long.”
Maybe chemistry and camaraderie and those intangible, magical metrics do matter a lot.
But there’s a science to what the Dodgers do, too. We can count on the mechanics they employ to tune up the baseball mechanics of just about anyone who pulls in, which is why General Manager Brandon Gomes was so confident Lynn would mesh well.
“A lot of the under-the-hood stuff is really strong – high strikeouts, low walks,” Gomes said soon after the trade was announced. “Getting him in our environment with our pitching guys and the energy that guys will have around him is really exciting.”
For Angels fans, they at least still have Ohtani – immune to contagions and curses with his AL-leading 42 home runs – to get excited about.
After that, it’s looking as glum for them as it’s looking fun for the Dodgers.
Shohei Ohtani hit HR No. 42, and it’s one I’ve never seen.
He lost his helmet during the swing and circled the bases helmet-less.
It’s 1-0 Angels in the first. pic.twitter.com/NLkgalfliS
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) August 17, 2023