Dodgers' offense grinds to a halt
After L.A. seemed to snap out of its funk, it gets shut out by Phillies' Oswalt
PHILADELPHIA -- It took everybody in the lineup -- the guys at the top getting on base, the guys in the middle driving them in, the guys at the bottom coming through with a few big hits of their own -- to break out of the overall offensive malaise that had plagued the Los Angeles Dodgers since the All-Star break.
It took only one man to bring that recovery to a crashing halt.
The Dodgers ran head-on into one of the starting pitchers they tried to acquire at the trading deadline. And after losing out to the Philadelphia Phillies in their pursuit of Roy Oswalt, the Dodgers lost to them again, this time on the field, 2-0 before a sellout crowd of 44,881 on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
But mostly, they just lost to Oswalt.
The three-time All-Star won for the first time in three starts since the Houston Astros traded him to the Phillies on July 29 for J.A. Happ and two minor leagues, and he did so convincingly. Oswalt held the Dodgers to five hits over seven mostly dominating innings, and whenever the Dodgers did see a glimmer of hope -- they led off three separate innings with doubles, two against Oswalt and one against reliever Ryan Madson -- they couldn't parlay it into much, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position with the one hit an infield dribbler that failed to drive in a run.
"Early in the game, [Oswalt] couldn't get his curveball over, but he threw an awful lot of changeups," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "When you throw 94-95 [mph], the changeup is obviously really important, and he located it very well."
The Dodgers (59-55), who fell back into fourth place in the National League West, were seeing Oswalt for the first time this season. He hadn't pitched in the Astros' two-game visit to Los Angeles in May, but he had reconnected with Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, who was with Houston during Oswalt's first eight major league seasons and caught almost all of his starts.
The two of them had a conversation, Ausmus suddenly remembered as he watched this game from the comfort of the visiting dugout, far from the heat of the batter's box.
"Roy told me he had come up with a changeup during spring training, and that it was working well enough to use as a swing-and-miss type of pitch," Ausmus said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I probably ever saw him throw in eight years with Houston."
Obviously, after a game like this, the Dodgers can only tip their caps to Oswalt, who had to be as good as he was on an evening when Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley (9-7) was almost as good. Billingsley gave up two runs and five hits, albeit with three walks, over six innings. Phillies relievers Madson and Brad Lidge combined to retire the final six Dodgers batters in succession after Scott Podsednik's leadoff double in the eighth.
But being shut out for a major-league leading 13th time still raises concerns for the Dodgers, mostly because of the timing of it. Just when they seemed to be getting it together, scoring eight runs on Sunday against the Washington Nationals and getting 15 runs and 18 hits in Tuesday night's win over the Phillies, the Dodgers ran into Oswalt. They can only hope he did nothing more to them than shut them down for one night, rather than sending them right back into another downward spiral.
A positive sign was that the newly acquired tablesetters, Podsednik and second baseman Theriot, continued to set tables. They went a combined 4 for 8 and have now reached base 14 times in 28 plate appearances over the past three games. The problem was that the middle of the order couldn't capitalize, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Casey Blake combining to go 1-for-11. The six through eight spots were a combined 1-for-10. That included Jay Gibbons, who had been - for-5 in his previous two games since being promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque, was starting in place of Matt Kemp for the second game in a row and went 0 for 4.
The Dodgers will face the decidedly hittable Joe Blanton in Thursday night's series finale, giving them a chance to quickly allay any fears their performance against Oswalt was more about them than it was about Oswalt. But with time beginning to run short for the Dodgers, they also need to show an ability to beat top-shelf pitchers like Oswalt, because they're going to run into them on a fairly regular basis.
Torre was non-committal when asked if the slumping Kemp will return to the lineup Thursday night. Torre had said before the game that Kemp's two-game benching was based solely on offensive performance, both that of Kemp and that of Gibbons, at a time of year when winning games was the most important thing.
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"We know what [Kemp] is capable of," Torre said. "He is struggling, and he has been fighting it. Gibby's first couple of days here have been good. I'm just going to sleep on it."
Kemp is hitting .226 (7 for 31) in August, a skid that came to a head when he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts Sunday. He pinch hit Tuesday night for the first time this season and delivered a two-run single, but he struck out against Oswalt when he pinch hit again in the eighth inning Wednesday.
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (10-7, 3.19) hasn't had much success in his career against the Phillies, going winless while posting a 6.64 ERA in four starts. However, he has averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in those starts. Blanton (4-6, 5.65) is having arguably the worst season of his career, but he has had success against the Dodgers, going 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA in six career starts, including two in the postseason.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.