SAN FRANCISCO -- Just after the Los Angeles Dodgers finished playing three games in blustery, gray weather here, the California sun finally pushed its way through the clouds around AT&T Park, and the fans along Third and King streets seemed to be enjoying the sudden warmth. Vendors were hawking hot dogs. A few fans were chanting, “Sweep!” and enjoying their team’s quick resurgence.
Another sellout crowd spilled into a city just beginning to stir with early rush hour.
That lively scene had little in common with the tense quiet in the Dodgers’ clubhouse after yet another shutout loss and another unsightly sweep here.
You can debate all you want about whether Clayton Kershaw is just as good as ever and victimized by luck, poor relief pitching and bad run support or whether he’s a little off and the league is catching up. It wouldn’t have mattered Thursday, because no matter how well he pitched, the Dodgers weren’t going to win. A team, you see, must score a run to win, and they didn’t do that in a 4-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner.
The Dodgers haven’t scored one of those since the fourth inning of Sunday’s game at home. Going into Friday’s opener against the San Diego Padres, they have gone more than 3½ games without scoring a run, 31 innings in all.
So that, in a way, made Kershaw on Thursday no different from Brett Anderson or Carlos Frias, the first two pitchers who went for the Dodgers in this series. It made Bumgarner no different than Tim Hudson or Tim Lincecum, the first two Giants pitchers to shut out the Dodgers while they were in the game.
But clearly Kershaw is different than those other Dodgers pitchers. He remains, probably, the best pitcher in the National League despite what his ERA and win-loss totals are telling us, which is why all the interest seemed to be in Kershaw’s mood following another game in which he generally pitched well and the Dodgers lost.
The Dodgers are 4-5 in Kershaw’s nine starts this season. The easiest way to summarize that: It’s not very MVP-like. Which is why I wanted to know whether Kershaw was frustrated the Dodgers weren’t winning more games he has pitched. The quality of his pitching has been debated into the ground by now. First, he asked me to rephrase the question. Then he said, “Yeah,” with a less-than-friendly stare.
Kershaw’s velocity was down a little bit on Thursday, and he admitted he didn’t “have a whole lot in the tank, honestly.”
“It just wasn’t coming out for whatever reason,” Kershaw said. “It’s tough. Madison pitched really well, and you just tip your cap, again.”
Kershaw wasn’t thrilled with a question about the distance on Bumgarner’s home run, but he acknowledged he should have “treated him with a little more respect, I guess,” rather than pump a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch.
Three of those five Kershaw losses have come when Bumgarner was pitching, which is a little bit like what Kershaw did to Lincecum in 2011, when he went 4-0 in games started by the teams’ aces at the time. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he thought Kershaw was great on Thursday and said he’s “sure” Kershaw is frustrated by now with the lack of results from all his effort.
“You pitch to win and you’re pitching good enough to win,” Mattingly said. “I’m sure he’s frustrated like everybody’s frustrated.”
That frustration is becoming palpable in the batter’s box. It’s becoming palpable in the clubhouse, and it’s becoming palpable in Mattingly’s office, even as he continues to strike a note of patience. This lineup was the best in baseball until it suddenly was struck ill entering last weekend. Since then, the Dodgers have scored two runs in five games. Back when the offense was efficient and explosive, the Dodgers looked like they might run away with the NL West. Since then, the Giants have figured some things out, and now they’ve crept to just 1½ games out of the division lead.
“Obviously, you don’t think you’re going to come here and not score a run in three days, but it’s like yesterday. It’s not a situation that you don’t like your club,” Mattingly said. “I thought our at-bats were really good today early -- actually all the way through the game. We had a lot of guys out there. We really made Madison pitch. We just weren’t able to get the hits to be able to push some runs across.”
There’s an air of repetitiveness when a team is in a losing streak, which the Dodgers are when it comes to beating their rivals up north. That’s two straight sweeps for San Francisco here, and the Dodgers have scored a total of six runs in those six games by the Bay.
So maybe that’s why Kershaw was so snippy with the question about his frustration level. Yeah, he’s frustrated, but it’s a team game, and, at the moment, nobody on the Dodgers is doing anybody else on the Dodgers any favors.