How bad can it get for the Dodgers?

HOUSTON -- The temptation here is to say that the Los Angeles Dodgers finally hit bottom on Monday night in this season of seemingly never-ending frustration. To give in to that temptation, however, would mean assuming things can't possibly get any worse.

By now, in the wake of a hide-your-eyes, ninth-inning implosion by a rookie who was pitching in a closing situation only because the Dodgers didn't have anybody else to do it in a 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros before 22,579 at Minute Maid Park, we all know that isn't close to being true. Things can get worse. Much worse.

And at the moment, there is every reason to believe they will.

The saddest part is, it should have been a night of celebration for the Dodgers, what with Matt Kemp slamming his 100th career home run in the second inning, Clayton Kershaw turning in a masterful, six-inning performance and sore Andre Ethier, who was unavailable to start after crashing into the right-field wall on Sunday, delivering a Kirk Gibson-like, two-run single off the bench to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh. It should have been a night that ended in victory.

Instead, it was a night that ended pretty much the way every night does for the Dodgers.

"It's a long season," said Dodgers catcher Dioner Navarro, effectively whistling past the graveyard. "We still have a long way to go. Every good team goes through this stuff. We're battling injuries, and it seems like every day somebody else gets hurt. But that is part of the business. We'll just keep playing hard and see what happens tomorrow."

Unless the Dodgers score a ton of runs -- something they seem wholly incapable of doing in their present, decimated state -- and unless they take a huge lead into the ninth inning -- because their bullpen seems wholly incapable of protecting a lead in its present, decimated state -- what happens tomorrow probably will be about the same as what happened Monday, what happened Sunday and what seems to happen almost every day with this club.

It happened again against the Astros, the National League's worst team in terms of record.

Once again, the Dodgers had a victory seemingly in their pockets. Once again, it got away in the ninth inning, and this time nobody could blame Jonathan Broxton, because he is on the disabled list. This time, the game seemed to turn on a two-out, 11-pitch walk that put the tying run on base, a double steal that never should have been allowed to happen to put the tying runs into scoring position and a two-run, game-tying double up the right-field line that just eluded a diving James Loney at first base.

It was that double steal -- Bill Hall, who had singled earlier in the inning, was on the front end of it -- that galled manager Don Mattingly especially after pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had emphasized the importance of preventing it to rookie reliever Kenley Jansen during a mound visit following that two-out walk to Angel Sanchez.

"If he did [check the runners], he didn't check them enough," Mattingly said. "We just have to pay better attention to that and not let them have that base. ... We talked about that when Rick went out, that you have to watch [Sanchez]. Obviously, that didn't happen."

Jansen said he did check Sanchez before throwing the pitch to Michael Bourn on which Hall and Sanchez pulled off the double steal, but he also admitted Sanchez wasn't a priority.

"I was checking the runner, but I was focused more on getting the last out," Jansen said. "We needed one more out and one more pitch."

Jansen (1-1) never got that out. Following the double steal, Bourn tied the game with his double, and after Jansen hit Clint Barmes with an 0-2 pitch, Hunter Pence lined a single over a leaping Rafael Furcal. Bourn narrowly beat a strong throw to the plate by Tony Gwynn Jr., sliding around Navarro to score the winning run.

And so the fourth-place Dodgers (21-28), who fell a season-worst 7 1/2 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants in the National League West, reached their lowest point of the season. So far, anyway.

There was plenty of room for second-guessing, starting with Mattingly leaving Jansen in to throw 38 pitches, most of them without anyone warming up behind him. Lefty Scott Elbert finally began to loosen up as the game was getting away, but it was too late to get him in.

"That was [Jansen's] inning," Mattingly said. "We had the guy in there we wanted in there. We couldn't have let him go much farther as far as pitches, but it was pretty much going to be his game."

Things can definitely get worse for the Dodgers. But in the immediate aftermath of this one, it was hard to imagine how.

"This is pretty frustrating, really," Mattingly said. "Coming out of Chicago, where we didn't do a lot, those were games we were battling to get back into. But this was one where we basically battled to get a lead, we had [relievers] rested, and we had the people we wanted to be a part of that game in the game. When that doesn't go well, it's frustrating."

At this point, there is nowhere for the Dodgers to go but up. Unless, of course, they continue to go down.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.