Series preview: Dodgers at Reds

Once again, June feels like a fateful month for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Last year, the threat of manager Don Mattingly getting fired, a floundering team and a complaint from Mattingly that his team wasn't playing with enough fight put the spotlight on the month before the All-Star break.

This year, Mattingly has wondered how united the Dodgers are, and the team has kept shuffling along the .500 line. The common denominator is injuries: Entering a four-game series in Cincinnati starting Monday, the Dodgers could be without four starting position players for at least part of it: third baseman Juan Uribe, second baseman Dee Gordon, catcher A.J. Ellis and MVP candidate Yasiel Puig. It's hard to be united when half your main position players aren't on the field.

Not that the Reds -- another disappointing team -- will feel sorry for the Dodgers. They have been playing without MVP-caliber first baseman Joey Votto for 20 games. They've also been struggling to score runs. Even after scoring 10 in a couple of wins over the last-place Philadelphia Phillies, they are on pace to score 581 runs, their fewest since 1982.

Votto and Mat Latos figure to return from injury soon, and the Reds hope they can make a run to get back into contention.

Of course, the Dodgers do, too. The difference between 2013 and 2014 is a San Francisco Giants team showing no signs of letting up. The Dodgers are two games over .500 and 9½ games behind the Giants, who have easily the biggest division lead in baseball. Last year after 64 games, the Dodgers were eight games under .500 but just 7½ back.

Can the Dodgers finally take off, as they did starting June 22 of last season? It's starting to look like they'll need a serious charge to scare the Giants. Otherwise, they'll have to take their chances with the wild card, a truly perilous route now that it's been turned into a one-game playoff.

There were some good signs in Colorado, with the Dodgers taking two of three from the free-falling Rockies over the weekend, winning Sunday without Gordon or Puig but with Clayton Kershaw and some luck (the game was called due to rain in the sixth inning). In that game, Hanley Ramirez hit a 472-foot home run, the fourth-longest in the majors this season. The Dodgers have seen more of the 2011-12-era Ramirez (hitting around .250) than the 2013 version (the top hitter in the NL when he was healthy) so far this season, a big reason they've struggled to maintain consistency.

The Dodgers' rotation gives them their biggest reason to hope now that Kershaw is healthy and every other starter just keeps plugging along. Dan Haren, who opens the series Monday night, has maintained remarkable consistency so far, but he was hit harder in May (4.30 ERA) than he was in April (2.03 ERA).