Dodgers offense needs some help

LOS ANGELES -- On one hand, it was that same, all-too-familiar storyline: The Los Angeles Dodgers got a strong, but not perfect, performance by their starting pitcher; they failed to provide him with any offensive support; they lost a close, low-scoring game -- or at least it was a close, low-scoring game until the Dodgers' bullpen blew up -- this time 10-1 to the Atlanta Braves in front of 41,596 on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.

On the other hand, this one was different. Different in a bad way.

This time, it wasn't Matt Cain or Jhoulys Chacin or Aaron Harang or Chris Carpenter mowing down the Dodgers at will. This time, it was an undrafted rookie named Brandon Beachy, who came in with a 5.19 ERA but somehow gave up only two hits over six dominating innings and retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.

This time, there were no mitigating circumstances. This time, the Dodgers' offense was simply, in a word, horrendous.

For the record, Hiroki Kuroda was the latest victim, taking the loss despite giving up two solo homers, one to Martin Prado leading off the sixth and one to Freddie Freeman leading off the seventh. Given the current state of the Dodgers' offense, the first one put them in serious jeopardy. The second one basically buried them.

"In a game situation like that, a run means a lot," Kuroda said, with Kenji Nimura interpreting. "You become too careful about your pitches, and sometimes you miss your spot. Those [home runs] were obviously mistake pitches, but with our offense this week, I thought we would be able to get some runs if I kept the game close. But that didn't happen."

It's difficult to fathom, really, how these Dodgers could be averaging a scant 3.2 runs per game at a point when one of their most important hitters, Andre Ethier, is riding a 16-game hitting streak; when their cleanup hitter, Matt Kemp, is the runaway major league batting leader; or when their de facto leadoff man, Jamey Carroll, is hitting .321 with a .367 on-base percentage in a role he was never supposed to play on such a frequent basis.

But solid pitching performances aren't the only things the Dodgers are wasting these days.

When you really examine it, though, it isn't that hard to figure out. Juan Uribe, as he has done for most of his career, continues to flail at just about anything that is thrown within a mile of the strike zone. James Loney has brought his second-half nosedive of 2010 into 2011. And how about that pinch-hitting appearance by the still-gimpy Marcus Thames in the seventh inning, when he whiffed on three consecutive pitches from Braves reliever Jonny Venters with the tying run on third and one out?

And speaking of key situations, the Dodgers (8-10) -- who fell into a third-place tie with the San Diego Padres in the National League West and still trail the division-leading Colorado Rockies by 4½ games -- are now hitting .184 (28-for-152) for the season with runners in scoring position, with 35 strikeouts.

And after Casey Blake grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the seventh, at a point when the Dodgers trailed by one run, the Dodgers were hitless in eight at-bats this year with the bases jammed. Not sure which is worse: the fact that they have gone 18 games without getting a hit with the bases loaded, or the fact that they have had the bases loaded for just eight at-bats.

By the way, the Dodgers scored their only run of this game on, appropriately enough, a groundout. It was hit by celebrated rookie Jerry Sands off Beachy (1-1) in the seventh inning, scoring Kemp from third base and moving Loney to second. That was followed by the only hit the Dodgers would get with a man in scoring position, a single by A.J. Ellis that was hit too sharply for Loney to score.

But hey, Kuroda (2-2) shouldn't complain. After all, the Dodgers gave him a run. If he had just pitched a shutout, he could have come away with a victory.

So what, pray tell, are the Dodgers to do about this problem?

The short answer is that there isn't a whole lot they can do at this point. They already made their bold move, bringing up the largely untested Sands on Monday, and he is hitting a decent .286 (2-for-7). Looking at the rest of the 40-man roster, there are only three position players left who aren't either already in the majors or on the major league disabled list.

That list includes infielder Russell Mitchell, who presently is hitting .179 at Triple-A Albuquerque; outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, who is hitting .381 for the Isotopes but has a career average of .154 in 16 big league games; and outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who has all of nine games at Triple-A -- which is one fewer than Sands had when he was called up.

So with Rafael Furcal still on the disabled list, all that is left for the Dodgers to do at this point is to hope that things get better. But they had better get better quickly.

"I think some of our guys who are struggling, like James, I see him [pressing]," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Again, everybody wants to drive in that run all the time, and every guy goes up there, if you see them struggling a little bit … "

At this point, Mattingly paused, as if searching for the right words.

"I think they're just trying too hard."

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.