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Are the Dodgers really that horrific a defensive team?

Maybe they needed a symbolic moment, a single inglorious representation of their greatest failing.

The Dodgers are playing lousy defense.

OK, maybe even a tad worse than that. Only one team in all of baseball — the Nationals — has committed more errors than their 23 in 21 games.

“We have to make plays we’re supposed to make if we’re going to get where we want to go,” said Manager Don Mattingly.

For a team with deep playoff ambitions, the kind of defense the Dodgers have been playing early this season is somewhat startling. Anyone doubting it, had only to take in their 3-2 loss Tuesday in 10 innings to the Phillies.

A game that had already seen shortstop Hanley Ramirez drop a routine grounder for an error and left-fielder Carl Crawford fail to make a leaping catch at the wall, the ball ricocheting off his glove for a triple, saw the two combine on the game-turning miscue.

Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz hit a high pop-up with one out in the 10th. Ramirez went backward, somewhat awkwardly. Crawford, playing deep to try to prevent an extra-base hit, charged in.

The two collided just as the ball hit Crawford’s glove, falling to the ground for an error charged to Crawford. Domonic Brown doubled and Ruiz scored the game-winner.

“That’s just a ball we’ve got to catch,” Mattingly said. “It doesn’t matter what happened at this point. It’s a ball we’ve got to catch. It’s simple as that.”

If neither player appeared to be calling the other off, it’s because they weren’t.

“Neither one of us called it,” Crawford said.

“I didn’t think it was clearly my ball. I was in no-doubles, so that’s a long run for me. I still got to it. I couldn’t catch it. It’s one of those things.”

One of those things that shouldn’t happen, particularly with a very veteran club like the Dodgers.

Ramirez leads the Dodgers with six errors, and he had one from April 13 reversed to a hit by Major League Baseball on Tuesday.

The Dodgers are not really built to be an outstanding defensive team. Crawford is this strange mix of athleticism and gracelessness in left. Ramirez has painfully limited range at shortstop. Dee Gordon is learning a new position at second. Yasiel Puig is a constant adventure in right.

But they need to be at least a decent defensive team, to support one of the baseball’s best pitching staffs.

“I think we have certain physical limitations,” Mattingly said. “For anybody that plays, if it’s range or speed or whatever it is. But there are plays you should make, plays you’re supposed to make -- you have to make.”

The poor defense is magnified because the Dodgers’ offense is struggling and they frequently find themselves in tight games. They’ve already played five extra-inning games.

“It’s tough because we’re not hitting the way we want to,” Crawford said. “Defense is one of the things you have to do every day to help the pitchers out. We’re not doing it.”

Tuesday offered a disquieting reminder of how costly errors can be. Maybe gave them a needed jolt to pay more attention to their defense.

“It always cost you something,” Mattingly said. “If it’s costing you more pitches, costing you extra guys out of the bullpen. It’s always costing you something.”

The Dodgers are not going to suddenly turn Crawford and Ramirez into 20-year-old versions of themselves, but it’s not too much to ask for someone to call for the ball. If they can’t make the spectacular plays, they’d best make the routine ones.

“We have to keep working,” Ramirez said. “We have to get better. Right now, our pitching staff is doing pretty good. We’re pretty much making mental mistakes.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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