Commentary

Dodgers' bats undermine mound

Los Angeles once again fails to score enough runs to back up dominant pitching effort

Updated: August 2, 2010, 11:31 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- With his left fielder still on the disabled list, his right fielder still with his family following the birth of a child, and his offense mired in what he later would call the worst collective slump he could remember since taking over as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers almost three years ago, Joe Torre made some changes.

He inserted fleet-footed newcomers Scott Podsednik and Ryan Theriot at the top of the order on Sunday night and dropped Rafael Furcal to third for the first time in his career. Torre's thinking was that it might allow the Dodgers to be creative on the basepaths, maybe stealing some bases, maybe doing some hit-and-run, maybe doing something to generate runs other than swinging hard and hoping for the best.

Matt Kemp
Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, but he's struggling like the rest of the Dodgers.

It was a nice thought. But in order to make it work, those players had to actually get on base. For the most part, they didn't, and neither did anybody else in this increasingly impotent lineup, and the Dodgers lost their fifth game in a row to two of what are now the three teams ahead of them in the standings, this time 2-0 to the San Francisco Giants before a sellout crowd of 42,922 at AT&T Park.

Podsednik, Theriot and Furcal combined to go 1-for-11 with a walk. Podsednik got the only hit, a leadoff single in the fourth inning. Just as Torre had planned, Podsednik stole second and took third on Furcal's groundout to the right side. But after a four-pitch walk to James Loney -- the only walk issued in 7 2/3 shutout innings by Giants starter Matt Cain, suggesting Cain might have been pitching around Loney to get to Matt Kemp -- Kemp grounded into a force at second, ending the Dodgers' only real threat of the evening

Other than Furcal, who drew a one-out walk in the ninth and later took second on defensive indifference, Podsednik was the only Dodgers runner to get into scoring position.

The Dodgers (54-51), who fell into fourth place in the NL West and eight games behind division-leading San Diego, managed only four hits against Cain and two relievers. They were shut out for the 11th time this season and held to no more than two runs for the 12th time in 17 games since the All-Star break.

"I keep answering the same questions,'' Torre said. "We're making it tough on our starters because we aren't allowing them to get any [run support]. I know we're better, and I know we're going to turn it around. The only question is, when is it going to happen?''

If it doesn't happen soon, it's not going to matter anymore.

At least the Dodgers won't have to wait for an opportunity. The Padres begin a four-game series at Dodger Stadium on Monday night, when Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier is expected to return to the lineup, although this is the same Ethier who is hitting .135 since the break. For now, though, the Dodgers are 1-5 in what was viewed as a critical 10-game stretch against the Padres and Giants before it started, and they have scored a grand total of 11 runs in those six games.

After the Giants had completed their first three-game sweep of the Dodgers since 2007, Torre was asked if this was the worst slump in his 2½ seasons with the club.

"To my recollection, yes,'' Torre said. "Of course, the one you're in always seems like the worst one.''

Casting an even brighter spotlight on the Dodgers' sputtering offense is the performance of the rotation. Since the All-Star break, Dodgers starting pitchers have a combined 2.62 ERA. That includes seven games in which the starting pitcher didn't allow a single earned run and a stretch of six consecutive games in which the starters combined to give up a total of one run.

Despite that, the Dodgers are 5-12 in the second half.

This game was more of the same. Clayton Kershaw (10-6) limited the Giants to two hits through the first five innings before a one-out double by Pat Burrell in the sixth led to a two-out intentional walk of Aaron Rowand with Edgar Renteria on deck. Renteria, who later told reporters he was angered by the perceived slight, then drove a triple off the base of the wall in left-center, giving the Giants what was basically an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

"Right now, two runs, unfortunately at this point in time, is a really tall mountain for us to climb,'' Torre said. "I have been through this with other clubs, and it's going to happen from time to time, but this has lasted a long time. From the All-Star break on, really, we haven't been consistent as far as putting points on the board. We haven't been able to put pressure on teams, and you do that by putting runners on base.''

The Dodgers also missed a golden opportunity to do that in the ninth inning, when Giants closer Brian Wilson ran the count full to each of the first three batters and missed the strike zone with his 3-2 pitch to all three. That should have given the Dodgers a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation, but it didn't. Theriot, who was 0-for-4 in his Dodgers debut, and Loney each swung and missed at what should have been ball four.

Those were two of the Dodgers' nine strikeouts, the first seven of which came against Cain, who finally beat the Dodgers for the first time in his career after losing his first eight decisions against them.

"He has always been aggressive, and he has always been a good pitcher,'' Torre said. "He caught us at the right time for him.''

In that, Cain was hardly unique.

Looking Ahead

Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (8-9, 3.53) and Padres lefty Clayton Richard (8-5, 3.48) are scheduled to start Monday night. In typical fashion for a Dodgers starting pitcher these days, Kuroda has lost two of his three starts since the All-Star break despite posting a 1.80 ERA, allowing just 13 hits in 20 innings, striking out 17 while walking four, and holding opposing batters to a .186 average. Richard also opposed Kuroda on Wednesday night at Petco Park, holding the Dodgers to a run on four hits over six innings and retiring the final 10 batters he faced.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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