As Nolasco struggles, Dodgers lose ground

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a while, people were asking whether Ricky Nolasco should be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the playoffs. Now, a better question is whether he should be given the ball for any postseason starts.

That's how badly things have been going for Nolasco as the season winds down. For a month-and-a-half after the Dodgers acquired him from the Miami Marlins, he looked like the acquisition of the year.

After Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants, Nolasco (13-11) is 1-2 with a 12.75 ERA in his last three starts and he has given up 24 hits while pitching only 12 innings combined.

Wednesday was Nolasco's last start of the regular season. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated the pitcher's stalled momentum won't impact how he feels about him as he sketches out his playoff rotation.

"Your guys are your guys," Mattingly said. "We're not all the sudden going to go do something different. Our guys are our guys. It's like saying a guy is struggling the last week, are you going to quit playing him?"

In his first 12 games with the Dodgers, Nolasco was 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and he had held opponents to a .213 batting average.

On Wednesday, Nolasco put the Dodgers in a 3-0 hole in the second inning after Tony Abreu cranked a three-run triple to deep right field off the glove of Yasiel Puig, who lunged near the wall. Nolasco's best hope of holding onto the No. 4 spot is the Dodgers' lack of options. The next pitcher on the depth chart, Edinson Volquez, has pitched better lately, with a 3.50 ERA in his last three starts, but he is 9-12 with a 5.77 ERA for the season.

The Dodgers are quickly losing their footing in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They're two games behind the Atlanta Braves and, if the playoffs began Thursday, they would be at Turner Field on Oct. 3 for Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

Of course, the situation is highly fluid. The Braves, who finish with four games against the Philadelphia Phillies, own the tiebreaker with the St. Louis Cardinals, who lead them by half-a-game and play their final three games against the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers conclude their season with three games this weekend against the Colorado Rockies. Even if the Dodgers sweep, it's highly unlikely they would pass both teams ahead of them. That realization could lead Mattingly to rest his regular players even more often than he has been.

Adrian Gonzalez got a day off Wednesday until a late pinch-hitting appearance, same with Hanley Ramirez. Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe didn't play.

The Dodgers made surprisingly little progress against Barry Zito, who had been thrust back into San Francisco's rotation when the team shut down Madison Bumgarner to keep his innings down. The Dodgers' only headway came in the fourth inning, on three straight hits, the last of which was Matt Kemp's RBI double off the top of the left-field wall.

Kemp has been a bright spot, with four extra-base hits in nine games since he returned from an ankle injury.