It was baseball at its most boring, which meant the Dodgers were also at their best.
The 31,424 inside the ballpark, and the national television audience watching on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” weren’t treated to many highlights. The Dodgers’ runs came on two sacrifice flies, a wild pitch, an error, an infield single and a double play. There was a strong seven-inning, one-run start from pitcher Walker Buehler, who still isn’t at his absolute best.
The closest the slumping Cubs came to posing a threat? A first-inning RBI single by Contreras, giving the hosts an early lead that soon disappeared after the Dodgers scored two runs in the fourth, two in the fifth and three more over the final three innings, sending the visitors to their sixth straight win and first series sweep on Chicago’s North Side since 2013.
“I just thought the way we played these last three games was more typical of our expectations,” manager Dave Roberts said after his team outscored the Cubs by a combined 20-3.
Indeed, this is what the Dodgers are capable of doing — especially against opponents overmatched by their talent-rich roster.
They suffocate teams on the mound, with a rotation and bullpen that each has an argument as one of the best in baseball.
They grind down pitchers at the plate, finding ways to draw walks and move baserunners and build big innings even with parts of their lineup slumping.
They can drain the drama from a game, winning by at least five runs for the ninth time this season Sunday.
“This never gets old,” Roberts said with a smirk after the game.
Added infielder Gavin Lux: “I think two-, three-, four-run leads probably feel like a lot more than they are [against us].”
Buehler had the most impressive performance Sunday. After giving up the first-inning hit to Contreras, which came on an 0-and-2 fastball he left over the heart of the plate, the right-hander rolled through the rest of his 100th career start. He gave up just four hits and two walks while striking out six on the night.
He attacked with his cutter, throwing his new bread-and-butter pitch a career-high 38 times.
He finished at-bats with his breaking pitches, getting most of his season-high 15 swings and misses with an assortment of curveballs, sliders and changeups.
And even with his fastball again surrendering several base hits, continuing to look less effective than it has in years past, he lowered his ERA to 1.96 and produced the team’s 15th straight start of two earned runs or less given up.
“I think I just pitch a little bit now,” said Buehler, whose career 2.70 ERA is the fourth-best among major league pitchers through 100 starts since 1969, according to MLB. “I think back then, I just tried to pick up my leg and throw it by everyone. I think my goals are a little bit different, trying to be efficient and trying to get deep into games.
“It takes some years to realize that’s a huge part of this game, trying to get deep and save bullpens. Those are little wins as the season goes on.”
The offense has also been succeeding with little wins at the plate.
The team still isn’t slugging home runs consistently and ranks only ninth in batting average and seventh in on-base-plus-slugging percentage in MLB.
But the Dodgers continue to lead the majors in runs per game thanks to productive performances such as Sunday’s.
After managing only one hit over the first three innings, the Dodgers tallied two runs in the fourth on two walks and two infield hits. After Cubs starter Justin Steele left the game before the fifth because of thumb soreness — after replacing originally scheduled starter Marcus Stroman, who was a late scratch and put on the injured list — they stretched their lead against Chicago’s bullpen, scoring at least seven runs for the seventh time this season.
“It’s pretty amazing, 26 games in, that we’re not completely clicking and we’re 19-7,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I think you could talk to a lot of us who feel like we’re not doing what we should be doing.”
As a team, though, the Dodgers are doing more than enough to not only own MLB’s best record through the first month of the season but do it in often domineering, anti-climatic style — making games such as Sunday boring for everybody but them.
“It’s certainly not boring,” Roberts said. “It’s just kind of all of us coming together collectively trying to win a game. … When you can have a game, or three games, that are essentially straightforward and you save your leverage guys for the next series, that’s always a good thing.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports