Dodgers' star-studded offense fails to capitalize on chances in loss to Reds

They had the bases loaded with no outs in the second inning. A leadoff double in the fourth. A one-out triple in the sixth.

All night Saturday, the Dodgers threatened to break the game open at Great American Ball Park. All night, they had chances to bury the Cincinnati Reds with their star-studded offense.

But at each crucial point, the team’s offense failed to deliver, continuing its recent trend of poor situational hitting to drop a fourth-straight game 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 41,880.

“We just couldn’t capitalize offensively,” manager Dave Roberts said after his club went 0 for seven with runners in scoring position. “One part of it is creating those situations. The other part is finishing those innings.”

Indeed, so far this season, one stat has defined the Dodgers’ success — or failures — more than anything else.

During their 12-11 start to the season, they batted just .244 with runners in scoring position, the 19th-best mark in the majors during that span.

During a 14-2 tear from April 21 to May 9, they batted an MLB-best .328 with runners in scoring position, seemingly addressing their situational hitting woes by cutting down on strikeouts and coming through in opportune moments.

In the two weeks since, however, the Dodgers’ batting average with runners in scoring position has cratered again. Since May 10, they are batting just .194 in such spots, better than two teams (the Angels and Texas Rangers) during that span.

Unsurprisingly, the team’s record has tapered off as a result, with the Dodgers now 7-8 in their last 15 games — a stretch that has seen their high-powered lineup manage just 3.7 runs per game.

“We’re just not swinging the bats the way that we’re going to,” Roberts said. “But yeah, it’s been a two-week stretch where we’ve shown a lot of inconsistencies.”

Situational hitting wasn’t the issue for the Dodgers (33-21) Saturday.

Starting pitcher Walker Buehler couldn’t replicate the dominance he flashed in six scoreless innings against the Reds (22-30) in Los Angeles last week, instead getting tagged for three runs in 5 ⅔ innings in a rematch series the Reds have clinched and can sweep Sunday.

“I was making a little bit of chicken salad out of chicken s— for a second there,” said Buehler, who had limited the Reds’ damage to a pair of early solo home runs before yielding a double and RBI single to finish his day in the sixth.

“Then that last run in the sixth is just a little bit of a lapse, just in terms of pitch selection and back-to-back scrambling a little more than I should be.”

The lineup also remained far from top gear.

Shohei Ohtani had the triple in the sixth, but struck out three times, leaving his batting over the last nine games at .206.

Will Smith hit a leadoff single in the second (and scored the inning’s lone run on a Jason Heyward double-play ball) and Freddie Freeman doubled in the fourth, but they managed nothing else, continuing slow May performances for each (they are both batting below .250 this month).

Even Mookie Betts couldn’t provide a spark, getting picked off at first base in the first inning after his only hit of the night.

Despite that, the Dodgers had chances.

Turning them into runs, however, proved yet again to be an unsolvable challenge.

“It’s more of the way we’re swinging the bats,” Roberts said of the recent struggles with runners in scoring position, describing it as more a reflection of his team’s cooled-off bats than an isolated issue with an obvious fix.

“The sheet of paper will say, yeah, we’re talented, this, that and the other, but the game is gonna determine [that],” echoed Betts. “There’s no words that anybody can say that’s gonna make us all of a sudden start hitting. If that was the case, we would have done it a long time ago. So it’s just part of the game. You just gotta figure out a way.”

Situational hitting can be a fickle stat in baseball. And Octobers aside, it has typically been a strength for the Dodgers.

They have ranked top 10 in the category each of the past five seasons. They entered Saturday in the top half of the majors at 14th, too, with a .258 mark that was actually better than their .255 average overall.

Yet, the issue has nonetheless plagued them in the past couple postseasons — and makes any skid like this current one that much more frustrating, looming as a potential playoff weakness for a team navigating championship-or-bust expectations.

“Everybody’s gonna be a little different,” Betts said when asked what changes the team can make with its situational hitting approach. “But at the end of the day, nobody really cares about how. It’s about the result. Obviously it’s not happening. So we need to figure out a way.”

The good news for the Dodgers: They still have a sizable lead in the National League West, up 5 ½ games on the San Francisco Giants. They’ll eventually get injured third baseman Max Muncy back, though his return (once hoped to come as soon as this week) has been delayed by continued discomfort in his strained oblique. Most of all, their recent malaise still feels like a temporary blip, more of a frustrating speed bump in their season than some larger cause for alarm.

However, that doesn’t lessen the frustration of Saturday’s loss — the latest in what has become another mediocre stretch for a team capable of much more.

“It’s just part of the game,” Betts said. “There’s nothing nobody can really say or do.”

The star leadoff man then stopped himself, and finished his postgame scrum with one last parting line.

“Well, I guess there is something,” Betts said. “Just get it done.”

Lately, the Dodgers haven’t, leading to their longest losing streak of an up-and-down start to the season.

Ohtani nursing hamstring

Ohtani has been nursing a hamstring contusion in recent days, Roberts said postgame, but the issue is not one that the Dodgers seem overly worried about.

During his sixth-inning triple Saturday, Ohtani was noticeably running less than full speed and seemed to get up slowly after sliding into the base.

However, Roberts said the slugger has simply been running with a “governor” since being hit in the leg by a pickoff throw on last week’s homestand.

“Today was better than yesterday … but we didn’t want him to push it,” Roberts said. “The good thing is it wasn’t a strain. It was a contusion we’re just trying to manage.”

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