Elliott: Dodgers have better days ahead while Angels find themselves in ugly situation

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is a tough grader.

On the day the Dodgers pummeled the hapless and hopeless Angels again to become the first National League team to win 60 games, he gave his team an A-minus for its performance during the first half of the season.

That’s for compiling a .667 winning percentage leading into the All-Star break, second in team history only to the .678 pre-All Star win percentage recorded by the 2017 Dodgers. They’re 9½ games ahead of San Diego in the NL West, a fat cushion that should spare them a repeat of last season’s wild card drama, and they have the second-best record in the major leagues, behind only the New York Yankees (63-28, .692).

And they’ve done all that without injured pitchers Walker Buehler, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Heaney, Dustin May and Blake Treinen, as well as briefer absences of position players Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts. Julio Urías has stepped up, rebounding on Saturday from a rare bad outing to strike out eight and give up one run over seven strong innings. Tyler Anderson, added to the All-Star roster on Saturday, is having a breakout season. Roberts also praised reliever Evan Phillips for stepping up when needed.

Their depth has delivered. “We’ve done a nice job. We’ve done a really nice job,” Roberts said. “I expect to be in first place. We all do. But how we got there, I think, is the most important.”

Given that they’ve had to reconfigure their rotation and their bullpen, a grade of A-minus seems low. But Roberts has to leave some incentive for them to sustain this level and maybe raise it after the All-Star break. Maybe that’s the right way to go: His players believe there are even better days ahead than what they’ve experienced in winning four straight games and 13 of their last 15 games before the break. To them, a grade of A-minus seemed about right.

“I think that’s fair. I think we’ve played pretty well, obviously. The record and the standings show that,” shortstop Trea Turner said after he hit two homeruns and drove in three runs Saturday as the Dodgers demolished the Angels 7-1 at Angel Stadium.

“But we’re not complacent,” Turner said. “I think we want to get better and continue to play good baseball. A lot of games ahead. Still got to win the division. There are some tough teams. So just keep our head focused on the next game, and I think we’ll be all right.”

Turner provided half of the Dodgers’ four-home-run output on Saturday. Max Muncy and Freddie Freeman provided the rest of the power, with Freeman recording the 1,000th RBI of his career on his leadoff homer in the fifth inning. By the time he returned to the locker room the ball had been retrieved and placed in a clear plastic display cube with a label explaining its importance.

“As a kid you dream of being a big leaguer. You never think you’re really going to get there,” the Orange County native said. “And to get one big league RBI, to get 1,000, it’s pretty special to do in front of your family.”

But the Dodgers haven’t had to rely on home runs alone, and that’s the foundation of their first-half success.

Freddie Freeman, left, congratulates Trea Turner after a solo home run against the Angels during the first inning Saturday at Angel Stadium.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

“That’s how we’re built: get on base and keep the line moving type deal,” Turner said. “We can do a lot of different things, whether it’s playing small ball and moving runners and hitting the ball the other way, or hitting the ball out of the ballpark, taking walks.”

Sticking with the theme of grades, the Angels’ first-half performance would get an F-minus or lower, if that’s possible. And things might get worse if the upper-back spasms that led Mike Trout to be scratched from the lineup minutes before the game on Saturday turn out to be a long-term problem.

At minimum the return of the spasms, which he felt last Tuesday, seriously jeopardizes his participation in the All-Star Game on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. He said Saturday he’d sleep on it before making a decision, but it makes no sense for him to play and risk further injury.

The Angels were 2-12 in July, their wins coming in games Shohei Ohtani started on July 6 and July 13. They’re 15-40 since May 15, falling 21 games behind AL West leader Houston and 10 out of the final NL wild card spot. They’re 22-27 at home after being swept in this two-game Freeway Series.

It’s ugly, and there’s no sense that will change. Interim manager Phil Nevin’s insistence they can still get back into things if they reel off a long winning streak sounds less convincing each time he says it.

Not playing on Sunday gave the Angels an extra day off, which they need. “Yeah, I think everybody [can] just reset,” Trout said. “I think guys can go enjoy their families and then reset it for the second half.”

Roberts planned to enjoy a beach barbecue on his rare Sunday off, though he said he’d also probably watch some baseball. “It’s a sickness,” he said, laughing.

More like an eagerness to do all he can to make sure that A-minus turns into an A or an A-plus at the end of the season, when the grade really matters.

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