LOS ANGELES -- It's not as if the Los Angeles Dodgers haven't had an alibi or two sitting around in easy arm's reach most of this season. They've had about a dozen.
They're 31 games into the season and they have used the disabled list 12 times on eight different players, including their $147 million pitcher and their All-Star, power-hitting shortstop.
Another break went against them Monday night, when umpires ruled that Carl Crawford didn't control the ball long enough after his fifth-inning catch, resulting in a two-base error that ignited a three-run rally on the way to the Dodgers' 9-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Manager Don Mattingly later said the umpires got the call right, "by the letter of the law," since the ball never firmly reached Crawford's left hand, but he also said common sense dictated that it was an out.
No argument here.
But if you're truly a championship-caliber team, you have to play at a level high enough to absorb bad breaks. The Dodgers spent nearly half a billion dollars on new players in the past nine months, but they haven't yet proven they can handle any tests, large or small.
"That's what makes baseball so tough, because it can really beat you down like that. You get a couple of games together and sometimes you can feel like there's a lot of weight on you," starting pitcher Chris Capuano said. "You have to really be tough to play this game, mentally tough to put things behind you and come back and be fresh."
Capuano left a couple of things behind him on the way to the clubhouse. One of them was a dugout water cooler he pried to the ground in frustration. The other was a tray of gum or seeds he chucked.
The Dodgers have lost five in a row and are in last place in the NL West, but in early May that's hardly worth mentioning. More troubling is the fact that every time bad things happen, worse things seem to follow. Last season, with a far less-talented roster, the Dodgers were 20-11, seven games better than they are through the first 31 games of 2013.
The Dodgers got that little bit of bad luck and seemed to fall apart Monday. A one-run deficit ballooned to four when Capuano grooved a couple of pitches to Paul Goldschmidt and Cody Ross, and the mistakes kept coming. The Dodgers flubbed a couple of double-play balls. Matt Kemp got caught trying to take an extra base in the eighth inning of a game in which the Dodgers were down by four.
"It was a sloppy game," Mattingly said. "We made too many mistakes and didn't do enough to win the game."
To his credit, Mattingly hasn't lamented the injuries, and he didn't blame the umpires. If it's not bad luck, though, it must be something else. And that doesn't bode well for a team with high, but teetering, aspirations.