Zero and six.
Say it aloud. Scribble it on a piece of paper. Shout it into the void. Stare at the record and ponder the implausibility.
The Dodgers have played the Cincinnati Reds, a last-place team in the midst of an organizational rebuild, six times in the 2018 season. The Dodgers have won precisely zero of those games, the latest a 3-1 defeat in front of more empty seats than fans at Great American Ball Park.
If the Dodgers do not participate in the playoffs this October, there are plenty of statistics to ponder: The blown saves in April, the earned-run average of the bullpen in August, the season-long stumbles in high-leverage situations, the various slumps plaguing their lineup. Or they can just look at this: an 0-6 record against a tanking team, one with marginal talent on its roster and even less to play for.
“I don’t have an answer for the Reds,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, we as a team don’t. These are important games, as we all understand, and our guys understand that. Unfortunately we can’t find a way to get a win here.”
On Tuesday, the Dodgers fell under the spell of Reds right-handed pitcher Luis Castillo and committed their usual sins against the concept of hitting. The sole source of offense was a solo home run from Joc Pederson in the sixth. Castillo struck out nine while overwhelming the Dodgers with the combination of his mid-90s fastball and diving changeup.
In a vacuum, the Dodgers could give credit to Castillo, a 25-year-old with an elevated ceiling. Yet these games do not exist in a vacuum. The context made the defeat more devastating. The Dodgers have wiped away the progress they made over the weekend in Colorado, just as they followed a jubilant series victory over Arizona with a desultory series loss to the New York Mets last week.
“I wish we had a theory, so we could play better against these teams,” Cody Bellinger said. He added, “It’s obviously frustrating. No discredit to the Reds — their lineup is good. And they’ve been pitching well. But at the end of the day, we’re the better team, obviously.”
That was not apparent Monday or Tuesday. The particulars with the offense were the usual. The hitters struck out too often and went hitless with runners in scoring position. It left Roberts shaking his head afterward, searching for an explanation. His team was not overconfident, Roberts insisted, but overzealous.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of complacency,” Roberts said. “If anything, I think it’s a matter of trying too hard.”
The lineup could not offset the performance of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was victimized by a slew of Dodgers castoffs. Ryu surrendered three runs in five innings. It was better than the seven-run stinker supplied by Alex Wood on Monday, but it still earned Ryu a loss.
The Reds granted perennial All-Star Joey Votto a day off Tuesday. In his place at first baseman was Brandon Dixon, a 26-year-old former third-round pick by the Dodgers. He had been shipped to Cincinnati in a three-team trade struck before the 2016 season. The Dodgers received outfielder Trayce Thompson, infielder Micah Johnson and pitcher Frankie Montas in the deal.
All three have left the organization. A fractured back derailed Thompson. Johnson was traded in 2017. Montas became part of the package sent to Oakland for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. The prospect value of Montas, which helped bring Hill to Los Angeles, is the trade’s most redeeming feature three years later.
Dixon was slugging only .362 when he stepped up to face Ryu in the second inning. He watched as Ryu missed with a curveball. Ryu tried an 87-mph cutter to even the count. The pitch hovered over the middle. Dixon launched the pitch into the second deck in left field.
An inning later, another member of that deal came to bat for Cincinnati. Scott Schebler punishes left-handed pitchers like Ryu. He clubbed a 90-mph fastball over the fence in right for Cincinnati’s second solo shot.
“There were some mistakes on my part,” Ryu said.
Early on, the Dodgers mounted little resistance to Castillo. He struck out seven batters in the first three innings. Bellinger whiffed on an 89-mph changeup and Yasmani Grandal swung over an 89-mph changeup to strand two runners in the first. Castillo struck out the side in the third, finishing off Max Muncy with another changeup to end the frame.
“When you do face guys like that, you have to take full advantage with guys on base,” Bellinger said. “And we haven’t been doing that lately. But that’s what you have to do against those guys — you have to get the guys in. Myself included, obviously.”
Castillo kept gobbling up outs. He retired 15 Dodgers in a row after a single by Manny Machado in the first inning. Before Castillo stumbled, Ryu gave up another run in the fifth. Schebler led off with an infield single. Jose Peraza — the third former Dodger in that same three-team trade — contributed a single. Scooter Gennett deposited an RBI single in left to bring home Schebler.
Pederson broke Castillo’s reverie in the sixth. Castillo challenged him with an elevated, 95-mph fastball. The ball landed in the right-field seats for Pederson’s 20th home run of the season.
The homer did not faze Castillo. He brought Muncy to his knees with an 0-2 changeup. Machado grounded out to end the inning.
“You have to find a way to win when things aren’t going well,” Pederson said. “We have to do a better job of that, including myself. We have to put together some wins right now, down the stretch.”
The Dodgers managed to drive Castillo out of the game in the seventh. Reds manager Jim Riggleman turned the lead over to his bullpen after Grandal doubled and Alex Verdugo took a one-out walk.
To the mound jogged Sal Romano, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher with a 5.41 ERA. Chris Taylor fell behind in the count and flied out to right, too shallow to bring home Grandal from third. A walk by Yasiel Puig loaded the bases for Justin Turner, who had been given the day off to rest his legs.
A new pitcher greeted Turner. Cincinnati reliever David Hernandez offered Turner three fastballs before turning to a slider. Turner chopped the pitch to short for the third out.
The Dodgers did not threaten again. Machado tapped into a double play to end the eighth. Verdugo did the same in the ninth. The players trotted back into the visitors clubhouse. One more game remained in this series, a Wednesday matinee that offers the team a chance to avoid an even more embarrassing statistic: Zero and seven.
“We keep saying it: We’ve got to win,” Bellinger said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been.”