Clutch hitting not Dodgers' strength

LOS ANGELES -- In theory, it's supposed to be all but automatic. A man on third with less than two outs. Countless ways to get him in. A fly ball. A ground ball. A base hit. Even if the other team is playing the infield in to cut off the run, that actually increases your chances because a well-hit line drive or well-placed grounder usually gets through.

So why are the Los Angeles Dodgers so lousy at it?

The Dodgers got a man to third with only one out in four consecutive innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night. Each of the first three times, to the surprise of practically no one who has been paying any attention to this team this season, the Dodgers failed to get him home. The fourth time, they got him home only because Tony Gwynn is fast enough to beat out what otherwise would have been an inning-ending, double-play grounder.

Not that it mattered much at that point. All those earlier wasted chances had already done the damage, the Dodgers by now well on their way to yet another, all-too-routine defeat at the hands of their still-superior crosstown rivals, 8-3 before 43,640 at Dodger Stadium.

Talk about all but automatic.

"We have kind of been doing that all year," Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll said of the wasted scoring chances. "If I knew [why], we wouldn't be doing it anymore."

A quick check of the statistics shows the Dodgers are hitting a decent .297 for the season with a runner on third and less than two outs. Stats don't lie, of course, so it's tough to simply say the Dodgers are a bad-hitting team in those situations. But that figure doesn't begin to tell the whole story, mostly because we can presume a lot of those hits came during the rare occasions when the Dodgers were lighting up the scoreboard -- like, for instance, their most recent road trip, when they scored 61 runs in 10 games.

But how many times have the Dodgers been left wanting because the runner on third was left stranded? How many close games have the Dodgers lost this season because they couldn't get a man home when the circumstances are most favorable for doing it?

"You think your guys are going to get it done," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We had chances to keep nicking those runs, even if it was one at a time."

There is no definitive answer, of course, to why this keeps happening, other than the rather obvious one that there is simply nobody in this Dodgers lineup, except for the two big bats in the middle, who can be counted on to deliver in those situations. In fact, of the Dodgers' 35 hits this season with a man on third and less than two outs, more than half of them have come off the bats of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, who are a combined 19-for-37.

The problem for the fourth-place Dodgers (34-43), who fell nine games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West, is that those situations rarely come up when it's Ethier or Kemp's turn to hit. Those two have combined for those 37 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs, but the rest of the roster is hitting .198 (16-for-81).

The latest string of failures came in the second, third and fourth innings, a point when not only was the game still winnable for the Dodgers, but they still had the lead despite the usual wildness and command issues by rookie right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (3-2).

First, Marcus Thames led off the second with a double off Dan Haren (7-5), then immediately left the game because of a strained left calf. Gwynn, who was sent in to pinch run, moved to third on Dioner Navarro's groundout, and then was cut down at the plate when Carroll couldn't get a grounder past the Angels' draw-in infield.

Then, Ethier, who had singled, didn't appear to get a good read on a bloop single to right by Kemp in the third and made it only to second. Ethier then had to hold up on another blooper by James Loney that Howie Kendrick dived for and couldn't come up with. Gwynn then struck out before Navarro grounded to first again, leaving the bases loaded.

Finally, in the fourth, Carroll led off with a double, and De La Rosa's sacrifice moved him to third, where you pretty much knew he was going to still be standing when the inning ended. This time, it was Dee Gordon hitting a one-hopper to second with the infield in and Carroll getting nailed at the plate. The Angels then scored three in the fifth, at which point the Dodgers were pretty much done in, for the same reason they have been done in on so many previous occasions in this increasingly bleak-looking season.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.