The Los Angeles Dodgers are on the brink of elimination, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
They lost a sloppy 2-1 road game to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night and now trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 4 1/2 games for the last wild-card spot with just eight games left. Any combination of four Cardinals wins or Dodgers losses between now and next Wednesday would knock the Dodgers out.
'Pen matters. The Dodgers don't have any star relievers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The one area of the team that has performed at least as well, if not better, than the team's expectations has been the relievers. The Dodgers got more dominant relief -- 2 2/3 innings of shutout baseball -- but again, it was merely preserving a close loss. Dodgers relievers have allowed opponents to bat .222 this season, the second-best mark in the National League.
Big lefty. The most important story line for the rest of this season and maybe a little beyond it involves the health of ace Clayton Kershaw. He threw a bullpen session before Tuesday's game, according to reports, and is on target to make his scheduled start Friday night against the Colorado Rockies. For some reason, Kershaw and the Dodgers are treating his hip injury as if it involves a matter of national security -- deflecting questions about its severity -- but the fact he can pitch with it means the Dodgers could get a few more starts out of him. If they fall completely out of it, of course, to pitch him again would be foolish.
Feistiness. When Everth Cabrera threw up his hands trying to take out Mark Ellis at second base and break up a double play in the seventh inning, Shane Victorino came charging in from left field to get in Cabrera's face. Perhaps Victorino is a bit frustrated because he's not hitting and has been hurt. Perhaps the Dodgers are feeling the pressure of this wasted pennant race. But at the very least, it showed a little fight and unity, traits that haven't always been readily apparent on this team.
Rush job. Josh Beckett has been around too long to make such a glaring mental mistake. The Padres scored a second crucial run when Beckett rushed his throw on Cabrera's bunt in the fifth inning. With a runner at second and two outs, Beckett would have been better served to hold onto the ball rather than rush and throw the ball into foul ground, into the runner, where Adrian Gonzalez had no chance to make a play. Cabrera likes to bunt for hits, but this was a spot where an infield hit wouldn't have hurt the Dodgers much.
Running gaffe. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Dodgers, and Matt Kemp, were involved in a similar play a few days ago in Washington, so there was no excuse for Kemp to overrun the bag at third base after Chase Headley gathered Hanley Ramirez's infield hit in the sixth inning. Headley faked the throw to first, spun around and threw to Cabrera, trailing on the play, who tagged out Kemp. If the Dodgers scored a ton of runs, these kinds of mistakes would be forgotten. Now, they might be remembering them for months.
Silent bats. Those were the mistakes that stood out, but they're petty concerns compared to the month-long hitting slump that effectively killed the Dodgers' chances. Once again, the big bats in the middle of the order couldn't drive in a run. It was fitting that the game ended when Andre Ethier struck out with a runner at third and one out and then Matt Kemp hit a lazy fly ball. The Dodgers seemed to be more competitive when they had fewer name-brand players.