Better off focusing on health, not home field

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe it was because he had watched the other team score 19 runs the night before, then had to be back in his office early in the morning for the day game, but Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly seemed uncharacteristically impatient answering questions Sunday.

He didn’t want to speculate on how long Yasiel Puig would be out.

He didn’t have an answer for why Paco Rodriguez has finally hit a rough patch in his strong rookie season.

He had no interest in discussing the Dodgers’ postseason plans, which suddenly doesn’t seem like such a pressing topic anyway.

So, if you’re wondering whether this latest batch of injuries is a major concern or more of a passing headache going into October, and you took your cue from the manager, you’d probably lean toward the former. If you went by the scoreboard, you’d probably lean toward the former, too.

The Dodgers have lost eight of their past 11 games as they stumble toward the finish line of clinching the NL West, depleted more and more by the day.

“This time of year, it’s tough to win games,” Mattingly said after the Dodgers’ 4-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants Sunday. “It’s like anything else, we had a bunch of guys out early in the year and we had trouble winning games.”

That is a truly troubling thought if you’re a Dodgers fan and you have ridden the emotions of this strangely parabola-like season along with the team. The Dodgers were 30-42 on June 21. Then, they got healthy and went 53-13 until this latest batch of turbulence.

And now what?

“We’ll right the ship,” catcher A.J. Ellis said.

That really is about all they can do now, with Hanley Ramirez out and Andre Ethier out and the health of Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp sources of serious doubt. It’s time to forget about securing the best NL record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In fact, it’s probably time to stop worrying about whether that first series will begin on the road or at home. Quietly, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals both slipped by the Dodgers for that edge Sunday afternoon.

Right now, it’s just about fielding enough healthy bodies to get there. The only thought more worrisome than fielding an outfield of Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker and Nick Buss for the next week or so is the thought of fielding it in the playoffs.

So, Mattingly’s first imperative is to give his players all the time they need to rest up from injuries, large or small. Whether the Dodgers clinch Tuesday in Arizona -- the earliest it could happen -- or 10 days from now, they’re better off focusing on having the strongest team they can on Oct. 3 than pushing hard for secondary goals.

“You hate to lose games, no matter where you are in the standings,” Ellis said.

And while they’re at it, they may want to break that habit, too, though that's easier said than done under these circumstances.