LOS ANGELES -- As much fun as the Los Angeles Dodgers have had during their historically hot run this summer, their goals have always extended beyond August.
If they truly want to be remembered fondly by history and look back on their unprecedented run over the past couple of months as a turning point rather than an aberration, they will have to grind out wins in October.
Don Mattingly knows this. That's why the Dodgers manager wasn't overly disappointed after his team lost to the Boston Red Sox 8-1 Sunday, dropping their first series in more than two months.
Mattingly never wants to lose, but if the Dodgers are able to find ways to wins two months from now against the Red Sox or a similarly balanced team in the postseason, he may look back at this series as a vital lesson for a team that made everything look so easy during its run of winning 46 of 56 games.
Over the Dodgers' past two games against Boston, the Red Sox have shut out the Dodgers in all but two innings, with Adrian Gonzalez's two hits in the series against his former team giving the Dodgers their only three runs over that time. Jon Lester and Jake Peavy combined to give up only six hits and striking out 11.
"I think it's a good little lesson for us because if we're going to be fortunate enough to be doing anything and getting anywhere, that's the kind of pitching you're going to see," Mattingly said. "You're going to see teams with a game plan and with veteran pitching that know what they're doing, and you better have a game plan when you walk up there. I think for three games, all their starters basically got ahead in the count and basically pitched to a game plan. It's a good lesson for us. You can't just show up and play. You have to be ready to play."
The Dodgers scored only five runs in the three-game series against Boston, but Mattingly isn't worried about the Dodgers' offense heading into the rest of their homestand, which includes a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, starting Monday, and a three-game set against the San Diego Padres, starting Friday.
"With good pitching you can't walk up there and just be swinging," Mattingly said. "They're going to have a game plan and if you don't understand what they're doing, they're going to wear you out and that's basically what we've seen for three days. It's what we do, but when you see a veteran staff [it's different]. They're not the young kids from Miami with the power arms that are letting you get back in the count. These guys know what they're doing and they're going to abuse you if you don't know what you're doing."
Over the past two months, the Dodgers seemingly have always known what to do, but the Boston series was always going to serve as a litmus test for them. No team in the American League has more wins than Boston, and the Red Sox and Dodgers, along with the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves, make up the top four teams currently favored to win the World Series.
The Dodgers know they'll have to play a different kind of baseball down the stretch and in the postseason if they want to make it to their first World Series since 1988.
"That was like a playoff series for us," said Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano, who took the loss Sunday. "It was a good test."
One of the biggest differences between an August series against the Red Sox and one that could materialize in October is Boston, which didn't face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke this series, presumably won't see Capuano this fall. They would face the Dodgers' lethal 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke, baseball's best pitching duo at the moment.
Without their aces on the mound, the Dodgers dropped back-to-back games at home for the first time since June 10 and lost their first series since June 16 when they dropped two of three on the road to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dodgers' 18-series unbeaten streak was a franchise record and the longest in a single season by any team since the 2002 Atlanta Braves went undefeated in 22 straight series.
"A lot of the series we've been able to win we've had Kershaw or Grienke finishing it up, so if you're in a 1-1 situation you end up with one of your horses so you feel pretty good," Mattingly said. "It's never good to lose a series, but it was a good lesson and we'll see how we respond."
The Dodgers didn't seem overly concerned about losing consecutive games for just the second time since June 22 and having their series streak snapped at home.
"It was unheard of, you're going to lose a series here and there," Gonzalez said. "It's been a great run and hopefully we start another run with the next series."
Before the Dodgers think about starting another run, Mattingly said he hopes they learned something from their first series loss in two months that they can use down the line in a far more important series two months from now.
"It was a good series for us because we ran into a team that's an experienced club, that's got veteran players, that grind out at-bats and pitch to game plan," Mattingly said. "That's the kind of team we're going to have to beat if we're going to go anywhere."