An interesting dynamic is starting to play out in the National League West. The Giants have lost six consecutive games, all since the All-Star break, the latest a defeat in New York to the Yankees.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, are plodding along in the second half, losing a series at Arizona they probably should have won, and winning a series at Washington they probably should have lost.
And in the opener of a three-game series at St. Louis, where the stands run crimson and horror strikes the Dodgers often, a new chapter began. The Dodgers were one out away from a series-opening victory when closer Kenley Jansen gave up a tying home run to Jedd Gyorko.
Some two hours later, Matt Adams won the game with a home run off emergency Dodgers reliever Bud Norris. The Dodgers' 4-3 defeat in 16 innings cost them a chance to move to within three games of the division lead. It was tied for the longest game by innings in Dodgers-Cardinals history.
"Obviously we know what's going on with the Giants, but we're just focused on ourselves and trying win baseball games," manager Dave Roberts said. "There were games [on the trip] we had and obviously we could have made up more ground. We've lost some tough ones, but the effort's there, the consistency and we're playing hard."
The Dodgers trailed the Giants by 6½ games at the break and were behind by four games after Friday's action. The Dodgers are on top of the wild-card standings, one game better than the Cardinals and Miami Marlins.
That the Dodgers are making a run at all is still impressive. The anchor of the pitching staff, Clayton Kershaw, is on the disabled list, and when he went down, he was easily the only thing that resembled consistency on the roster.
But the bullpen and the offense were showing signs of life in late June, when the Dodgers got their worst injury news of all in a season that has been overrun with bumps, bruises and ailments.
The offense and bullpen both sent conflicting messages Friday. As far as the bats were concerned, Corey Seager returned from a stomach bug and delivered four hits in his first four at-bats. Going back to Sunday at Arizona, he delivered a hit in seven consecutive at-bats.
And Justin Turner continued to produce, putting the Dodgers ahead in the ninth inning with his third home run in two days, his fifth home run since the break and his 14th since June 10.
But including the Turner home run, the Dodgers scored only one run over their last 10 innings Friday and had only one hit in the game's final seven innings.
And while the Cardinals won the game against Norris, who still is expected to start at home Tuesday as scheduled, it meant the actual relief pitchers gave up one run over 7⅔ innings. That it was Jansen who gave up the run was not only the most painful news of all, it meant the game continued deep into the night.
"I was just trying to locate down and away and I just kind of misfired," Jansen said. "He got lucky on it and he got it out. He's a good hitter."
It not only was Jansen's second blown save of the trip, it was his fifth of the season. Without those two blown saves in less than a week, the Dodgers would be just two games behind the Giants.
"It's part of life," Jansen said. "As long as you're going to do this job, it's not your first one and it's not your last one. It sucks we lost, but you have to move on to the next one. Hopefully tomorrow you get another one-run lead and you go out and do your job."
Jansen, an All-Star who is the only Dodgers reliever to have kept a set role all season, says he is fine physically and does not have an issue with his mechanics that is limiting movement on his cut fastball.
"Nobody's perfect," he said. "He was a good hitter. I can't beat myself up over stuff like that. Most of the time they can foul it back off and today he didn't. You have to give credit to the hitter, too. Tomorrow's another day and hopefully I can face him again."
If Jansen felt fine without any success, starter Brandon McCarthy was the opposite. The right-hander, in his fourth start since returning from Tommy John surgery, said he didn't execute very well yet gave up two runs on only one hit over 6⅓ innings before leaving because of leg cramps.
"I think I ran into a team that was scuffling a little bit tonight and got a little lucky," McCarthy said. "I was able to get deeper into the game, which I was happy with, but coming out when I did, I didn't really care for. But what can you do?"
Lost in it all were two scoreless innings from Grant Dayton in his major league debut. Dayton was the first Dodgers pitcher to make his debut with two scoreless innings in an extra-inning game since Tim Belcher against the New York Mets in 1987.