Dodgers not capitalizing on chances . . . for a while now

Even after losing seven of their last eight, the Dodgers find themselves just two games behind the Cardinals for the second NL wild-card spot. The Cardinals, who began a crucial four-game series at Dodger Stadium with a win Thursday night, have lost six of eight. The two teams have struggled for different reasons, one of which will have to give this weekend.

The Dodgers entered Thursday’s game tied for the fewest runs in the league in September and had sole possession of last place in that category after scoring just one run Thursday.

The Cardinals entered play with the NL’s worst ERA this September but no longer hold that distinction after Thursday night’s 2-1 win.

It was the eighth straight game the Dodgers have scored three runs or fewer, matching their longest streak of the season (which came at the end of June). They’re the only team this season with two separate eight-game streaks of scoring no more than three runs.

The Dodgers hadn’t had two such streaks since 1969, when they managed to do it three times.

The Dodgers have particularly struggled with runners in scoring position. They’re hitting .169 with no homers as a team with a runner on second or third in September. All seven Dodgers home runs in the month have been solo shots.

In the last week, the clutch hitting has been even worse. In six games since last Friday, the Dodgers are hitting just .086 (3-for-35) with runners in scoring position.

A big part of the Dodgers’ offensive struggles of late has been the injury to Matt Kemp. Kemp, who’s missed time this month with a shoulder injury, is hitting .139 in September, including 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Half a month isn’t a very large sample, but Kemp has seen changeups a quarter of the time in September. That’s more than twice as often as he saw the pitch all year through the end of the August.

The changeup has given Kemp trouble historically; in the last four seasons, he is hitting .203 in at-bats ending with a changeup, well below the league average of .242. This season Kemp is 4-for-34 (.118) in at-bats that end with a changeup, including 0-for-8 in September. He’s swung at 14 changeups this month, missing on 10. None of the four changeups he’s put in play this month has even left the infield.

Hanley Ramirez has also started to slump a little in September, hitting .214 with 16 strikeouts in 42 at-bats. He’s being pitched differently, as well. Entering the month, as a Dodger, Ramirez was being thrown off-speed pitches about 40 percent of the time; that number has increased to 53 percent in September. Both of his home runs in September have come off fastballs.

Three games remain for the Dodgers in their critical weekend series against the Cardinals, a team that had struggled to pitch well this September before Thursday night.

However, if the Dodgers continue to hit like they have been, especially with runners in scoring position, the Cardinals’ pitching may look much improved by the time Sunday’s game is over.