Dodgers navigating a vexing season so far

LOS ANGELES -- Three-hundred-eleven days passed between games in which Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zack Grienke gave up four earned runs. That's 26 starts over 44 weeks and change, or 7,464 hours or 447,840 minutes or 26,870,400 seconds. By any unit of measure, it's an impressive run.

Sunday, the streak came to an end, not on a day when Grienke was batted around like a piƱata, as can happen even to the best. (Clayton Kershaw gave up seven runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks a couple of weeks ago.) Grienke wasn't awful, giving up only five hits and walking two over six innings. He just couldn't solve Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The reigning National League MVP kick-started a two-out rally in the first with a double, homered in the third, then doubled and scored in the sixth.

"[He] crushed some balls," Grienke said. "I guess I could have pitched better to him, but there was no one on base any of the times [he came to the plate]. He's patient, so you can't just throw balls and have him chase it, because he doesn't do that. He's a tough guy to pitch to."

Take away a couple of pitches, and it's a different game. The only other Pirates batter to earn a hit off Grienke was third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He had a pair, including a two-run single in the first inning aided by a defensive shift. What would have been a routine grounder to short put L.A. in an early hole. The Dodgers played the odds, and the odds didn't play nice.

"At that very point, I don't like [the shift] very much," manager Don Mattingly said.

Meanwhile at the plate, one night after hanging 12 runs on the Pirates, the Dodgers' got one hit and nine strikeouts from Dee Gordon, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp.

Before the game, a swarm of bees invaded the bullpen. Grienke said after it didn't really impact his preparation, but still, bees!

It was that type of game in that type of season for the Dodgers, who have operated like a car driving through heavy fog, neither pulling over to the side of the road nor advancing at the preferred speed, unable to get all the pieces operating efficiently at the same time.

It's an annoying reality without solutions boiling down to anything but "Play better."

"You go into the season and your club has a nucleus and a core group of guys that you count on. You shuffle them around here or there, but you're still counting on that nucleus of your guys to do their thing. If everybody's doing that, we'll be fine. I think that's what you do," Mattingly said.

Sunday, there wasn't much else for Mattingly to do other than send his best players to the plate in a well-thought lineup, and hope they perform. Save Yasiel Puig, the nucleus failed.

"Those are the guys you count on, and those are the guys we have confidence in, and I do have confidence that we're going to get where we need to get to," Mattingly said.

It happens. Baseball is a game of failure. A marathon, not a sprint, and any number of other totally legitimate Zen-adjacent truisms. When and to what degree the manager should actively try to fix things is one of the game's enduring questions.

"You don't want to sit here and accept anything. You don't want panic," Mattingly said. "But you also want your team to play with a sense of urgency that every game counts and you can't just let a game get away. You have to let things go, but in the same sense it's got to bother you when you lose games and when you lose series, and you're not playing the way you're supposed to play. It's something that should bother you enough that you go to work."

They have too much quality pitching, he believes, to be anything but dangerous.

"When you've got that, you've got a chance to get on a roll," Mattingly said. "I just know we can rattle a bunch of games off. Not necessarily 42 out of 50, not that type of roll, but I know we're capable of just going out and winning series after series after series, because of this pitching."

But they haven't yet, and until the Dodgers figure out a way to escape the gravitational pull of .500, the questions aren't going to change. Mattingly still sees the requisite level of urgency in their collective preparation and effort. Asked if he has seen a lack of it, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was blunt.

"Not on my behalf," he said.

How about with other guys?

"I can't speak for other people."

Is that a shot at teammates? Postgame irritation from a guy who struck out three times in four plate appearances, and has taken oh-fers in six of his past nine starts? Some combination of the two? Something else entirely?

Like everything else about the vexingly mediocre 2014 Dodgers, the answer is hard to pinpoint.