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Dodgers still mired in Giants’ wake after lackluster finale vs. Cardinals

Dodgers still mired in Giants' wake after lackluster finale vs. Cardinals

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Trea Turner pauses at the plate after striking out swinging.

The Dodgers are on the wrong side of a tight division race they didn’t expect, still trying to chase down their bitter rivals to the north even with the second-best record in the National League. If they don’t finish in first place, their World Series title defense could end Oct. 6 in the wild-card game. It’s a risk they want to avoid.

You wouldn’t have known that watching their 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. The Dodgers lacked urgency, from their lineup creation to the performance between the lines at Busch Stadium. The offense continued its malaise, squandering another strong showing from the pitching staff against a middling club on the fringes of playoff contention.

The lackluster performance dropped them to 2½ games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West with 21 games remaining.

“Looking at where we’re at,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “it’s very disappointing.”

Playing a day game after a night game — first pitch was thrown at 12:14 p.m. local time — and their seventh game in a stretch of 13 games in 13 days, the Dodgers fielded a lineup without Corey Seager, Will Smith and Chris Taylor against right-hander Jake Woodford.

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Taylor is mired in a deep slump and Smith caught eight innings Wednesday night. But Seager, a shortstop, had played just 73 games before Thursday and was one of the Dodgers’ most productive hitters on their seven-game trip. Roberts defended the decision not to start him.

“I just don’t see Corey Seager playing 13 in a row because the bottom line is we have to keep him healthy,” Roberts said. “So, to put him in harm’s way to get hurt, that doesn’t do us any good, either.”

Without those three, the final five batters in the Dodgers’ lineup were a murderer’s row of offensive inadequacy.

Cody Bellinger entered Thursday 0 for his last 20 and five for 62 since Aug. 18. And yet, he batted fifth. Next was Steven Souza Jr., who was called up Tuesday because the Dodgers are desperate for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. He began the day with a .179 average and .651 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 14 games.

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Billy McKinney batted seventh. He was six for 49 since the start of August. Austin Barnes, the catcher, was the thumper in the group. He was hitting .220 with a .672 OPS. Finally, there was Tony Gonsolin, the starting pitcher coming off the injured list for his first outing since July 30.

Dodgers relief pitcher Alex Vesia delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning Thursday.

Dodgers relief pitcher Alex Vesia delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth inning Thursday. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

The product was predictable. While the top four batters — Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, Trea Turner and Justin Turner — accounted for the Dodgers’ four hits and two of their three walks, the five players at the bottom combined to go 0 for 12 with four strikeouts.

“Guys are gonna have tough days,” Roberts said. “That’s just the nature of this game. We’ve run other guys and had the same results. That’s the great thing about this game, is that it’s not predictable as much as you can say that it was. But we know our offense has struggled with different guys at the bottom than today.”

Bellinger finished 0 for 4 with two strikeouts on curveballs in the dirt. The 2019 NL MVP hasn’t recorded an extra-base hit since Aug. 17. He owns the worst batting average (.158) and OPS (.524) in the majors among players with at least 300 plate appearances this season. His OPS+ was 44 before Thursday (league average is 100). He’s worked one walk since Aug. 13.

After the game, Roberts acknowledged that Bellinger could see a reduction in playing time even after the team lost AJ Pollock to a hamstring strain last weekend.

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“There are some things he has to figure out,” Roberts said. “But, also, I gotta take a look and see what gives us the best chance to win on a particular night. I’ll do that.”

Souza Jr. struck out twice Thursday. McKinney flied out and popped out before Taylor pinch-hit for him in the seventh inning. Barnes flied out twice and grounded out.

Gonsolin grounded out in his only at-bat, but he did his job on the mound, giving up one run across three innings. Corey Knebel, Phil Bickford, Alex Vesia, Joe Kelly and Kenley Jansen held the Cardinals to one run over five innings.

Without support, that run was the difference. It came on Tyler O’Neill’s homer just over the wall in left field — the ball landed on a flower bed in front of the first row of seats — in the fifth inning off Bickford.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, sleepwalked to the end. Taylor, Albert Pujols and Seager each came off the bench for at least one at-bat in an attempt to bolster the bottom of the lineup, but it didn’t matter. After flying out in the seventh, Taylor struck out to end the game.

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On Monday, the Dodgers beat the Cardinals despite their final 19 batters going down in order. At one point Wednesday, Adam Wainwright retired 22 of 23 Dodgers. On Thursday, after leaving the bases loaded in the third inning, they went one for 19 with a walk over the final six innings.

“We have a lot of good players and it’s frustrating when you don’t produce or do what you’re capable of,” Trea Turner said. “I feel like we’re capable of a lot obviously seeing the amount of talent and the experience over here. We’re capable of a lot and we can play a lot better offensively going forward and it’s just a matter of relaxing a little bit.”

In the end, the Dodgers finished their two-city trip 3-4 after leaving Los Angeles tied for first place in the division. For months they have insisted that they have enough time to surpass the Giants and claim their ninth straight division crown. That’s still true. But they can’t afford many more duds like Thursday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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