PHOENIX -- If you are a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and you are starting to get frustrated with your team being stuck in this thick, goopy mud so close to the tape in the National League West race, realize that you are, in fact, alone.
Well, maybe you’re not alone among your fellow fans. But those feelings quite evidently aren’t shared by the Dodgers, even after their 2-1 loss Monday to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field kept their magic number stuck at four for the fourth straight day.
“I don’t think anybody here doubts that we’re going to do it,” Mark Ellis said.
Of course not. For the Dodgers to blow a 9½-game lead with 12 games left would prompt books to be written, followed closely by screenplays.
The only issue worth worrying about much is whether the assortment of injuries to the team’s key hitters will throw off the team’s swagger and rhythm going into the playoffs. Even that hardly seems like something to panic about, considering none of the injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford figures to linger more than about another week. Matt Kemp’s health, because it has been so tenuous all season, is another matter.
“I think we’re just getting close to the goal line here, and games are tough to win,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Then, all of a sudden, we look at a lineup that doesn’t have Hanley in it, doesn’t have Andre Ethier in it. Guys are not in their spots.”
If the Dodgers had more healthy bodies, Nick Buss would not have had the pivotal at-bat Monday night.
If they had healthier bodies, A.J. Ellis probably wouldn’t have been hitting fifth and wouldn’t have been in position to strike out with the bases loaded and stunt the Dodgers’ biggest threat.
If they had healthier bodies, Mattingly wouldn’t have asked Juan Uribe to lay down a bunt in the ninth inning, because -- frankly -- it likely never would have come to that.
Arizona’s closer, Brad Ziegler, throws with a sidearm motion that creates nasty angles for right-handed hitters. For Ziegler’s career, righties are hitting .216 and lefties are hitting .300. It would have been the perfect inning to tap Crawford or Ethier to pinch hit. Neither player was available.
See what Mattingly means about guys not being in their spots?
There is still a massive upside here. The pitching, typically, is great. Hyun-Jin Ryu might have had his finest outing as a Dodger in the complete-game loss. After the first inning, he allowed just one baserunner. He left one pitch up to the most dangerous hitter in the league, Paul Goldschmidt, and it cost the Dodgers the game.
“I threw 100 pitches today, but that one pitch seems to be the decision-maker,” Ryu said through his interpreter. “That was an error on my part.”
And, even with all this teeth-gnashing going on among Dodgers fans during this 3-9 stretch, their team still has an excellent chance of being the first in baseball to clinch. If the Dodgers win two of their next three games here, they’re in, and who’s going to care about the previous two weeks?
They earned the luxury of playing lousy games for a couple of weeks.
“I’ve never been on a team with anywhere close to this big a lead,” Ellis said. “You’d rather do it sooner than later, but the main thing is you’ve got to keep your edge somehow. You want to play good baseball.”
So, yeah, this does have to change pretty soon or October isn't going to be nearly as raucous around Dodger Stadium as fans were envisioning back in August. Presumably, it will pick up when the name-brand players grab their gloves and bats and finally leave the dugout.
If they’re not getting it done by then, you won’t be the only person wondering what happened.