Dodgers can't explain persistent mediocrity

LOS ANGELES -- The Josh Beckett narrative has been about an aging pitcher coming off a scary injury who taught himself a new trick that, improbably, got him back near the top of the game.

During the spring, the Los Angeles Dodgers barely knew what to expect. By late April, they were pretty sure he and his rejuvenated curveball would help their rotation. By late May, he'd thrown the first no-hitter of the Major League Baseball season.

Though he is quiet, Beckett is also a resource, someone who knows the difference between winning environments and losing environments. Beckett has two World Series rings, more than anyone else in the room. He has been a World Series MVP. He has been an ALCS MVP.

He has also been part of a very expensive, very famous flop and been blamed, in part, for the failure. He has a good sense of when it's time to hit "Go" before the button just stops working.

"I think we're getting to that time," Beckett said. "There should be something like that building, whether it's frustration or whatever. We've got to just get rolling."

The Dodgers are more than one-third of the way through their season and they have yet to win more than three games in a row or lose more than three games in a row. Though there have been exciting individual performances along the way, the upshot has been a collective snooze. Maybe it's for the best that 63 percent of L.A. can't watch the games on TV. Most people would probably change the channel anyway many nights.

The highest-paid team in baseball is two games over .500, which seems to be its permanent resting place, and is now 7½ games out of first place, which is a new low.

Beckett, coming off the no-hitter, didn't have the same bite on his pitches and was being watched closely anyway after throwing 128 pitches four days earlier, so he was gone after only five innings Friday night, having left the Dodgers with a two-run deficit they could never overcome in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Francisco Liriano's changeup, combined with umpire Paul Nauert's cavernous strike zone, had the Dodgers lunging at pitches all night. They struck out 12 times in a frustrating evening in the batter's box. Momentum hasn't been hard to find, it has been hard to pin down.

"I don't think it's just me. I think we're all frustrated we can't sustain it," manager Don Mattingly said.

Hanley Ramirez is one issue. He has shown signs of emerging from his season-long malaise -- including a double and RBI single Friday -- but he hasn't maintained it and stayed on a roll for a couple of weeks. To Mattingly, Ramirez's fortunes (or lack thereof) have mirrored the Dodgers', probably not coincidentally.

"He hasn't really been able to sustain a run and we haven't been able to sustain a run, either," Mattingly said.

The bigger issue, for the moment, is what to do with Matt Kemp. The Dodgers moved him out of center field because they were unhappy with his defense. A spot opened up five days later when Carl Crawford sprained his left ankle, but Kemp hasn't exactly taken it and run with it. He's 0 for his past 20 with seven strikeouts. Mattingly said he was considering not starting Kemp in left field Saturday evening.

That figures to create even more drama on one front, but overall this Dodgers show has been a formulaic dud.