Empty swings, wasted potential

Juan Rivera lost track of the count. The umpire had to hold up four fingers to tell him he'd just walked.

Hanley Ramirez started to walk back to the dugout, thinking he had struck out. The umpire had to remind him he had called the pitch a ball, not a strike.

It's fair to say the Los Angeles Dodgers are a bit discombobulated at the plate these days.

In the weeks after adding two star-caliber hitters to their lineup -- at a hefty price -- they are just as prone to the kind of long, collective hitting slumps that can keep a team home in October. The Dodgers spent a beautiful weekend in San Francisco taking an endless string of ugly swings. In a way, it's amazing they won one of the three games.

They went 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position while losing two of three games to the San Francisco Giants, virtually knocking themselves out of the NL West race. Barry Zito, a pitcher who has to muscle up to reach 85 mph, tied them in knots Sunday night in front of a national TV audience.

"I don't know if it's pressing too hard or not caring enough or what," Andre Ethier said. "You try to go out there and relax, it doesn't work. You try to go out there and care, and nothing works. Maybe somebody needs to come on and give us all a good shake or something. I don't know."

Who knows, maybe Don Mattingly will try moving some players around in his lineup, hoping to stir a little life into an inert mix of ingredients. Probably the best thing he can do is write Matt Kemp's name back in there, and it seems like there's a pretty good chance of that happening Tuesday.

Mattingly sounds like a manager at wit's end, particularly after watching half the soft-tossing lefties in the National League dominate his team over the past month or so.

"Those kind of guys have basically been able to do it to us every time without us really having any kind of answer for it," Mattingly said. "Obviously, we've got to make an adjustment to what our thinking is with this kind of guy. You can't keep doing the same kind of things and keep getting the same results and expect things to change."

Mark Buehrle, Jeff Francis, Wade Miley, Tyler Skaggs, Zito. The softer a pitcher throws, the more difficulty the Dodgers seem to have with him. They must be living in fear of Jamie Moyer coming out of retirement.

Instead of taking what the pitcher is giving them, most of the Dodgers seem intent on making themselves heroes. With the exception of Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis, every hitter looks as if he's trying to hit a home run on almost every swing. Zito may not be as dominant as he was when he won the Cy Young award nearly a decade ago, but he's savvy enough to use a hitter's machismo against him.

The Dodgers are averaging 2 1/2 runs per game during their past 10 games ... and two of those went extra innings. You would expect a little more from a lineup filled with former All-Stars, two of whom joined the team in the past five weeks.

Funny things can happen in September and October, but after losing five of their past six games to the Giants, the Dodgers appear to be too far out of the division lead to matter, at 5 1/2 games back. The Atlanta Braves look like they're running away with one of the wild-card spots, so that means the St. Louis Cardinals are the team to catch. The Dodgers trail St. Louis by a 1 1/2 games with four games at home against the Cardinals this week.

It's in reach, but these days the Dodgers are having trouble reaching anything -- fastballs, curveballs, changeups, whatever. The Dodgers probably shouldn't even worry about the standings until they can score enough to compete. They are 6-9 since the most expensive trade in baseball history.

"We haven't played well," Mattingly said. "We haven't done enough to win games. It's not like we've gone out and kicked the ball around. Our pitching has kept us in games.

"I don't think it's any real secret. We haven't scored enough. We can't even come out and say we should have won a bunch of games. We should have won a bunch of games if we were able to score."

Yeah, they would have won a bunch of games if they had been able to score. But that's the kind of thing you can say just as easily in November as in September.