Winning tough without runs
The Dodgers continue to struggle to get men across the plate when in position
LOS ANGELES -- The good news for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night was that one of their most miserable road trips in recent memory was behind them. The bad news was that the misery had followed them home from St. Louis.
It became evident fairly quickly in a 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants before 45,056 at Dodger Stadium that simply returning to the West Coast wouldn't be enough to solve the Dodgers' offensive problems. They continued right down to the final two outs of the game, a strikeout by Blake DeWitt with runners on first and second and another strikeout by Casey Blake with the bases loaded.
That left the Dodgers hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position for the game, and 5-for-36 with eight strikeouts and two double-play grounders in those situations during what is now a five-game losing streak to begin the second half.
Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers got runners to second and third with two outs, only to have Matt Kemp hit a grounder to third. They got a gift run on that play -- a gift from both Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who tagged James Loney coming from second rather than throwing across to get Kemp at first, and from plate umpire Mike Everitt, who wrongly ruled that Jamey Carroll crossed home plate before Sandoval tagged Loney.
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers loaded the bases with two outs, only to have Andre Ethier ground to first.
Finally, trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers got a leadoff single from Russell Martin, a one-out single from Rafael Furcal and a two-out walk from Ethier, only to have Blake strike out to end the game.
"I think when we're getting up there with opportunities, wanting to get it done, we haven't been able to for whatever reason," Dodgers utility man Jamey Carroll said. "When you haven't won any games, I guess it could lead to wanting too badly to be the guy who gets the big hit, and nobody has been able to do it."
Indeed, the Dodgers (49-44) -- who remain mired in fourth place in the National League West and trail division-leading San Diego by six games -- appear to be pressing in such situations, and manager Joe Torre admitted that it is becoming a concern.
"I think it is getting into our heads a little bit now," Torre said. "There have been a couple of opportunities where we were probably squeezing the sawdust out of the bat."
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In five games since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have scored a total of 11 runs. In 45 offensive innings since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have scored in a total of six of them.
There was good news for the Dodgers offensively. Kemp and Martin, both of whom had been struggling, got three hits apiece. Furcal, who hadn't been struggling at all and now has enough plate appearances to qualify as the leading hitter in the NL at .338, also had three hits, one of them a solo homer leading off the sixth.
But the rest of the news was pretty much bad, including the fact that Ethier is now hitless in his past 12 at-bats, albeit with five walks, and Blake is now hitless in his past 13.
"Andre looks like he is getting frustrated because they seem to be [pitching] around him," Torre said. "He just has to maintain his patience."
So do the rest of the Dodgers. Especially in key situations.
James McDonald, who was promoted earlier in the day from Triple-A Albuquerque for the first time this season, made his first big league start in almost 15 months. There are no guarantees he will make another one anytime soon.
McDonald gave up four runs on nine hits over five innings and seemed to be in constant trouble after retiring the Giants in order in the first. With John Ely having pitched seven solid innings for Albuquerque against Round Rock on Sunday in his first start since being demoted, and with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti already burning up the phones in advance of the July 31 trading deadline, there is no guarantee McDonald will start the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up (on Saturday against the New York Mets).
"I think we have to wait and see where we are," Torre said.
Both Torre and McDonald felt the right-hander had good stuff and made some good pitches. But the result is what matters, and at a time when the Dodgers are becoming increasingly desperate for just one victory, McDonald simply wasn't good enough.
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Whether he was good enough to warrant another chance remains to be seen.
"I try not to worry about that," said McDonald, who logged major league time each of the past two seasons and was on the playoff roster both years. "I just worry about what I can do tomorrow and the next day. If they do call on me, I'll be ready to go back out there."
After the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out in the second inning following a leadoff walk to Buster Posey, McDonald managed to escape without a run scoring, striking out Travis Ishikawa, getting Nate Schierholtz to pop up and retiring Madison Bumgarner on a ground ball. But McDonald had to throw 22 pitches that inning, something that might have adversely affected him later on. He gave up two runs in the third and two more in the fourth.
In Tuesday's matchup, two of the brightest young pitching talents in the National League will face off: Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 3.16) versus two-time defending N.L. Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (10-4, 2.94). Kershaw is coming off one of his worst starts of the year in Thursday night's second-half opener at St. Louis, where he gave up five runs and failed to get through the fifth inning. Lincecum, by contrast, is coming off a two-hit shutout of the New York Mets on Thursday night at AT&T Park.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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