Commentary

Another meek finish for Dodgers

L.A. seems uninspired in a 3-1 loss to the Padres, who take over first in the West

Updated: September 23, 2010, 2:42 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Human nature can be a hard thing to overcome.

Once again, the Los Angeles Dodgers were no match for it Wednesday night, and they weren't much of a match for the San Diego Padres, either, succumbing all too easily in a 3-1 defeat before 33,728 at Dodger Stadium.

It isn't that the Dodgers have quit on the season. Quit, after all, is a strong word. But given they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, a mere three losses shy of being mathematically eliminated from salvaging a .500 season and that the only real incentive left for them is to have some degree of impact on what is shaping up as the most compelling race the National League West has seen in recent memory, the fact that the Dodgers aren't throwing up much of a road block whenever they play those contending clubs is, to put it mildly, a little disappointing.

The Dodgers scratched out a run the old-fashioned way in the bottom of the second inning, earning it when Casey Blake slid hard into second base to take David Eckstein out of what might otherwise have been an inning-ending double play. That allowed Matt Kemp to score to give the Dodgers a brief 1-0 lead.

Andre Ethier
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier's single in the bottom of the third inning Wednesday was the last hit the Dodgers had.

But in the top of the third, Miguel Tejada hit a two-run homer off Ted Lilly. Once again, the sense the Dodgers were done came early. And once again, that sense rang true -- the Dodgers got a harmless, two-out single from Andre Ethier in the bottom of that inning, then didn't get another hit the rest of the game.

The fourth-place Dodgers (73-79) fell 12 1/2 games back in the NL West. The Padres, who are lucky enough at the moment to be playing a three-game series with the Dodgers, moved back into first place, a half-game ahead of the San Francisco Giants and three ahead of suddenly slumping Colorado. But all is not lost for the Rockies. After all, they have a three-game series with the Dodgers next week.

The Dodgers are now 4-13 against the Padres, Giants and Rockies in the past month.

So much for playing spoiler.

"We certainly need to be better than that [offensively], and we should be better than that," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "You can't disrespect what [the Padres] have done all year with their pitchers, but we certainly need to scare people more than that."

Back to that human nature thing.

A quick glance at the standings after Wednesday's games shows that of the 30 major league teams, 14 of them are mathematically eliminated from both their division and wild-card races. Of those 14, only the Dodgers were in the playoffs last season, when they won the NL West for the second year in a row, swept their first-round series for the second year in a row and lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row.

In fact, of the 13 other eliminated teams, the vast majority have struggled all year and knew realistically by the All-Star break -- and in some cases, by the middle of May -- that they weren't going anywhere. For those teams, the season has basically been about pride and winning as many games as they possibly could.

For the Dodgers, it has been a double whammy. First, they hung around long enough that it didn't really become clear that they were done until around Sept. 1. Second, they are coming off back-to-back deep playoff runs, meaning they are accustomed to playing for something at this stage of the season.

Taken together, those two ingredients comprise the perfect recipe for lethargy. Some might even say apathy. The fact the Dodgers have scored two runs or fewer in 34 of 63 games in the second half and six of their past eight games, the fact there is a feeling they are beaten any time they fall behind by a run or two in the early innings, it all seems to suggest that even if the Dodgers are trying like mad to muster up enough intensity to take into a game against a playoff contender, maybe it just isn't there.

"It's tough to look good when you get shut down like this," Torre said. "I think there is a great deal of frustration. They sort of let frustration take over instead of fighting for nine innings, and that is certainly something that shouldn't be."

The Dodgers actually are having a huge impact on the division race, but it isn't the impact they wanted to have. Every series they play against an NL West opponent seems to vault that opponent back into first place.

Key moment

With two outs, a man on second and the Dodgers leading 1-0 in the top of the third, David Eckstein hit a broken-bat grounder to short. Rafael Furcal went to his right to get it, planted and then bounced his throw to first, where James Loney couldn't handle it. As the runner on second, Chase Headley rounded third, Loney ran down the loose ball and made an ill-advised throw to the plate, which bounced past catcher A.J. Ellis for another error.

Tejada followed with a two-run homer off Lilly (8-12). All three runs were earned because Eckstein was awarded a hit -- Furcal was charged with an error on the throw, but only because it allowed Headley to score -- but if Furcal makes a clean throw to first, he still might have gotten the speedy Eckstein by a step.

By the way, Lilly has now given up eight home runs in 27 1/3 innings over his past five starts, during which he has four losses and a no-decision. In his first five starts for the Dodgers, all victories, he gave up four home runs in 34 1/3 innings.

Trends

Rookie reliever Kenley Jansen, who has an outside shot at the closer's job next season, continues to shine. Although he plunked Ryan Ludwick, that proved harmless in an otherwise uneventful top of the eighth inning in which Jansen retired three of the four batters he faced.

Jansen has now given up one hit over his past seven innings spanning six appearances, and he hasn't given up a run in his past eight innings spanning seven appearances.

Jansen, who didn't convert from catching to pitching until last summer, wasn't added to the 40-man roster until last winter and wasn't called up until July 23, shaved his already-microscopic ERA to 0.79. He has given up two runs in 22 2/3 innings.

By the numbers

37 -- holds this season for Padres reliever Luke Gregerson, a major league record for a single season. Gregerson, who came on to start the seventh inning and retired three consecutive Dodgers batters, broke the previous record of 36 shared by former Padres reliever Scott Linebrink in 2006 and former New York Yankees reliever Tom Gordon in 2004.

Quote of the day

"It's something you have to just do. You can't ask him. He will say he's OK because he feels like the club needs him, and they do. But he needs to be in better shape physically, and the only way to do that is to rest him." -- Torre, offering advice through the media to incoming manager Don Mattingly on how to handle third baseman Casey Blake, who is 37 and whose offensive dropoff this season Torre blamed on the fact that he didn't rest Blake as often as he originally had planned to.

Looking ahead

Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-13, 3.36) has posted a second-half ERA of 2.71, more than a run better than his first-half figure of 3.87. That could have something to do with the fact his strikeouts-to-walks ratio has risen dramatically since the All-Star break, from 2.8 in the first half to 3.9 in the second half. Padres right-hander Mat Latos (14-7, 2.84) has given up 13 runs over his past two starts after giving up a total of 16 runs over his previous 15 starts dating to June 10.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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