But in the aftermath of a 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers are suddenly within realistic sight of first place, trailing San Francisco by only 6 1/2 games in the National League West.
Only six days earlier, the Dodgers were 9 1/2 games behind. But the Giants have come back to them, dropping five of their last six games, the most recent a 5-4 defeat to the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.
"All we can control is what we're doing," Manager Don Mattingly said.
The Dodgers have won five of their last seven, but haven't won more than three consecutive games at any point this season.
They also continue to lack roster stability.
Meanwhile, Chad Billingsley was sounding as if he won't pitch again this year.
Billingsley has been limited to two brief minor league starts in his recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery. The ligament that was repaired in that operation remains healthy, but he now has a torn flexor tendon in the same elbow.
The former All-Star is expected to meet Sunday with the team physician, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, to discuss whether he should undergo his second major elbow operation in two years.
Regardless of what he decides, Billingsley said he doesn't expect to pitch for the Dodgers this season.
"Very, very, very, very, very slim," he said.
Surgery would end Billingsley's season. If he decides to rehabilitate the injury, he would have a chance of returning late in the season. But he said that if rehabilitation fails, his recovery would take even longer.
"Doing three years' rehab would be a grind," he said.
Billingsley, 29, is in the last season of a three-year, $35-million contract. Because of uncertainty over his health, the Dodgers are unlikely to exercise the right-hander's $14-million option for 2015. If they buy out his contract for $3 million, he would be a free agent.
As Billingsley tried to accept what was happening to him, his longtime battery mate was trying to play his way back into shape.
Ellis started for only the 17th time this season.
The catcher underwent a minor knee operation in early April and was sidelined for more than a month.
Shortly after he returned, he sprained his ankle while celebrating Josh Beckett's no-hitter on May 25.
"It was really deflating and frustrating to come back after working so hard, only to go down on a fluky freak accident," Ellis said.
Ellis might not be one of the Dodgers' most glamorous players, but his absence has been noticed.
Through Friday, Dodgers catchers were batting a combined .187, which ranked last in the National League. Their three home runs were tied for last and their 19 runs batted in were second to last.
Mattingly doesn't expect Ellis to transform the lineup. But the manager was hopeful Ellis could introduce the kind of tenacity at the plate his team has often lacked.
"I think the one thing you'll see, even when his average may not be jumping at you, he's always a guy that gives you a tough at-bat every day," Mattingly said. "He makes the pitcher work."
Ellis said he was optimistic about the team.
"We're trying to move in the right direction," he said. "At times, we're moving quickly. Other times, we're taking baby steps. Hopefully, we can get to moving at a more consistent pace in the right direction."