On Fernando Valenzuela Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium, the only bobbling witnessed was that of Los Angeles' grasp on the National League West race.
With a 4-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night, the Dodgers dropped their second game in a row to open the three-game series against their fellow divisional contenders and for the second consecutive homestand have squandered capital gained from a 7-3 roadtrip. San Francisco now leads Los Angeles by a game and a half heading into Wednesday's finale, while Arizona fell to six games out of first place after an extra innings home loss to Miami.
Since being acquired on August 3, Joe Blanton has been Average Joe in his four Dodger starts, and awfully hittable over his last three, in which he has allowed 16 runs on 23 hits in 15 innings.
Prior to the game, manager Don Mattingly spoke on what the team has to do correctly over the final six weeks to have a shot at the division and make the playoffs.
"I think the main thing is always going to be, 'are we going to get pitching that keeps us in games, gives us a chance to win on a nightly basis?'" Mattingly asked rhetorically.
That wasn't the case in Tuesday's loss, as Blanton allowed the first four Giants hitters to reach base in a two-run top of the first inning that was followed three innings later by another two-run, three hit inning that included a Blanton error.
"Tonight I felt like I threw the ball well," said Blanton, who allowed 10 hits for the third time in 24 starts this season. "I felt like it was the best I've thrown it since I've been here. All singles, you know, ground balls through the hole and bloopers in the outfield."
While Blanton weathered the fans' derision as he left the game with two outs in the sixth inning after having thrown 80 pitches, it was the Dodgers' lack of opportunistic hitting that was more detrimental and plagued them for the second consecutive night. Los Angeles has now grounded into six double plays through the first 18 innings of this series and is 1-14 when batting with a full count, the lone hit coming on Matt Kemp's ninth inning single. It was his first hit since August 15, breaking an 0-21 skid.
"Matt was better tonight. I thought Matt was a lot better," Mattingly said. "He hits that ball good to right field. His at bats looked more settled tonight. I thought he was better tonight, for sure."
Mattingly was referencing Kemp's sixth inning bases loaded warning track sacrifice fly that brought in the Dodgers' only run. They were trailing 4-0 at the time, a deficit unaffected by A.J. Ellis being thrown out at home plate earlier in the inning on Shane Victorino's single.
"It was just a decision that didn't work out," Mattingly said of third base coach Tim Wallach's decision to send Ellis home with no outs. "It doesn't matter if it's right or wrong. It didn't work out."
Andre Ethier ended the game by grounding into a double play against tough lefthander Javier Lopez, part of an 0-4 performance that dropped him into a 1-23 stretch. It was the second straight night San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy brought in Lopez to face Ethier in the ninth inning, resulting in the second and third saves of the season for the veteran southpaw.
"They've been matching up pretty good with Dre. These guys are sitting here with three lefties, so they're not going to give him too many shots at hitting off a righty. They've matched up pretty good with him," Mattingly said.
If there's a way Mattingly would like to see Kemp and Ethier snap out of the offensive funk that has plagued their recent home efforts, it's through fine tuning their approach to pre-game workouts and batting cage sessions instead of turning the other way and expecting things to turn around.
"I've been on teams, 'hey, no hitting. No cage, no hitting. We're just going to play the game.' And sometimes that works, and sometimes you go out and get shutout like that," he said. "I'm on the work side. If we're struggling, let's continue to kind of work on it. I'm not saying overdo it to the point where you can't swing the bat by the time you get to the game, but I think you always continue to work and you try to improve."
With a 6-11 post-All Star Break home record that has overshadowed back-to-back 7-3 roadtrips, Mattingly hasn't touched that frequently referenced panic button yet, noting that there was still plenty of regular season baseball to be played.
"We're going to be fine. We're not going anywhere. We'll be ready tomorrow," he said.
Speaking of tomorrow, the slumping Los Angeles offense will face peripheral Cy Young candidate Matt Cain, who is coming off an eight-inning, four-hit, one-run win over San Diego on Friday. The three-time All-Star who threw one of three major league perfect games this season is 3-8 with a 3.58 career ERA against the Dodgers and took a no-decision in Los Angeles' 5-3 10-inning win at AT&T Park on July 27.
It should be another significant challenge for a Dodger team looking to capitalize on its remaining home games against their storied divisional rivals. After this series concludes, Los Angeles travels to San Francisco for three games September 7-9 before closing the season out with three straight against the Giants on October 1-3.
"I do have to give those guys credit," Mattingly said. "These are guys that can pitch. They're where they are for a reason. Two years ago, they win the whole thing for a reason, and a lot of it's the same guys that are pitching. They're a club we can handle, and I think we will handle. But when you make pitches, there are times you're going to get shut down. These two games have been a couple of those."