3 up, 3 down: Cardinals 2, Dodgers 1

LOS ANGELES -- You figured the importance of the series might focus their attention, that coming home might do them some good, that perhaps their fans could coax them back to life.

But everything the Los Angeles Dodgers try these days gets swallowed up by an all-consuming hitting slump. They lost the first game of a crucial four-game series to the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 Thursday night and now their postseason hopes are flickering.

They trail the Cardinals by two games for the second wild card with just 18 games left (nine of them against first-place teams).

The Dodgers have scored three runs or fewer in 12 of their past 13 games. Thursday's game -- pitting two slumping teams -- looked like an underwater pillow fight until the Cardinals' offense finally snapped awake against the Dodgers' bullpen in the seventh inning.

The Good:

Good enough. Josh Beckett nearly had his second hit in three years, but Carlos Beltran fielded his line drive and fired to first to get Beckett (easily) on the rare 9-3 putout. Not pretty, but then again, the Dodgers won't need Beckett as a pinch runner. They do need him to be their No. 2 starter, or at least an approximation of a No. 2 starter. He was far from dominant, but he took the ball to a point in the game where the Dodgers could match up the proper relievers. Once again, a Dodgers starter didn't get enough run support for a win.

Signs. Maybe Adrian Gonzalez is about to be the first of the Dodgers' big bats to break out of this slump. He has had their only RBIs on consecutive nights. He got things started well once again with a first-inning RBI double and later added a walk (something he hasn't been doing as a Dodger). Gonzalez came into Thursday batting .229 with one home run in 17 games as a Dodger. It has been a modest uptick, but compared to the rest of this lineup, it's an explosion.

Bullpen. The Dodgers' bullpen took Thursday's loss, but it hasn't been the culprit during this rough patch. In fact, before the Cardinals scraped one across against rookie Paco Rodriguez in the seventh, a Dodgers reliever hadn't allowed a run since Saturday. Of course, the Dodgers haven't had many leads to protect so we haven't seen them under much duress. Brandon League has been nearly automatic, with 12 straight scoreless appearances. Ronald Belisario hasn't allowed an earned run in 13 straight outings.

The Bad:

Still sore? Matt Kemp doesn't want to talk about his health, which is fine since it might distract from this team's goal. But he clearly isn't right. With a bad left shoulder, you wonder if he'll be able to turn quickly on inside pitches or whether he'll be susceptible there. He had a bloop single to left, but he just isn't striking the ball with the authority he normally does. He's batting .138 in September, not what you're looking for in clutch time from your best player. He is, of course, a gifted player. He made a tough over-the-shoulder catch look easy running to catch Daniel Descalso's deep drive in the eighth inning.

Victorino. After watching Shane Victorino consistently misfire atop his lineup for more than two weeks, manager Don Mattingly tried something new. He dropped Victorino to the No. 6 spot and slid Andre Ethier into the two-hole. That potentially hurts the Dodgers in a couple of ways, since Victorino is much faster and Ethier is far more powerful. But you can't bicker too much with the move when you consider Victorino had batted .222 with just four runs scored in his previous 14 games entering Thursday.

Paco. He's so much more memorable as "Paco" than by his given name, Steven Rodriguez. He'll also probably linger in the Dodgers' thoughts as they mull over their bullpen for next spring. The three months he spent in the minor leagues might be all the seasoning the 21-year-old lefty gets. He looks as though he's ready for the majors now. After two scoreless appearances, though, Rodriguez had some issues in his second inning Thursday. He walked the leadoff guy and gave up a single that led to the Cardinals' decisive second run. It was a tough spot for a rookie who had been up for about a week.