Sports Dodgers

Dodgers' Don Mattingly needs to set his alarm

Dodgers have a lot of questions entering the stretch run
Dodgers haven't played well against other top teams, and haven't been able to come back after seventh inning
Mattingly made poor decisions in extra-inning loss to Nationals

The quotes were as stunning as the result.

"I think this a good game for us," Manager Don Mattingly told reporters Wednesday after the Dodgers' worst loss of the season. "This effort right here and this determination and perseverance from our guys is going to get us where we want to go."

A good game? The Dodgers had just suffered an 8-5, 14-inning loss to the Washington Nationals in an afternoon featuring a blown lead, two blown rallies, and two blown managerial decisions.

Get them where they want to go? Not if they want to go back to the World Series for the first time in 26 years it won't.

Mattingly was obviously attempting to be Donnie Positive, but right now, what is needed is Donnie Darko, the same tough guy who showed up last season at the start of their 42-8 run, somebody to stand up in the clubhouse and loudly remind this team of the somber realities of championship baseball.

Yes, they've been in first place for 81 straight days, they have yet to lose more than three games in a row and, oh yeah, Clayton Kershaw could end up with the lowest earned-run average for a left-hander in 81 years. But further calculations show them stumbling toward an October where their most utilized number could be 911.

Against the six other legitimate playoff contenders in the National League, the Dodgers are 21-25.

This shows the lack of urgency that has so many longtime Dodgers followers frustrated. Great teams seem to find a higher gear for great opponents. The Dodgers don't do that, as Mattingly's consistently level approach has seemingly given this gifted team an excuse to treat everyone with an equal shrug.

"I don't want to turn the apple cart over, I want to keep everybody in harmony here," Mattingly told reporters this week when asked about competition between Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig.

Just once, in dealing with the entire laid-back Dodgers culture, Mattingly needs to turn that sucker over and let those Granny Smiths fly.

When trailing entering the seventh inning or later, the Dodgers are 1-50.

This is an amazing statistic, particularly when considering the other six playoff contenders average eight comebacks each, with the Nationals and San Francisco Giants storming back 13 times each. This is supposed to be a stat of resiliency, but for the Dodgers, it reeks of resignation.

"Guys are mentally tired, it's a long season, but if you're going to play deep into October, you've got to continually play with passion and focus," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said Wednesday.

Dee Gordon is the Dodgers' catalyst at the top of the order, yet since July 26 he has struck out 28 times while drawing one walk.

The kid is just tired. He has already played more big league innings this year than in his last two seasons combined. He has already been in the starting lineup for as many September-October games — three — as in his last two seasons combined.

Yasiel Puig is batting .192 since Aug. 4 with no homers and four RBIs. He has two homers since May 28.

This kid is also tired, looking like the same weary Puig who flamed out at the end of last season. He's even reverting to some of his past immaturity, as earlier this week he showed up five minutes before stretching.

"Is he physically tired or mentally tired?" Colletti said. "It's time for everybody to focus on what they need to focus on."

Brian Wilson was the Dodgers' setup savior late last season with an 0.84 ERA in non-save situations. This year, in similar situations, he has a 5.48 ERA.

No Dodgers' hope has crashed harder than this one, and no struggle has had more direct ramifications. This is the reason Kenley Jansen was brought in to attempt a four-out save Wednesday — he failed — even though there's nearly a month left in the pennant race.

Hanley Ramirez carried the Dodgers during the 2013 regular season, but since June 22, he is batting .254 with two homers and 16 RBIs.

Everyone thought Ramirez would imitate his buddy Juan Uribe from last season and passionately work as if his Dodgers life depended on it. Instead, beset by constant aches and pains while worrying about impending free agency, he has played as if he's distant, or at least distracted.

"He's been hurt a few times, it's hard when you stop and start … and he's got many other things he's thinking about, including the contractual situation," Colletti said. "We all keep waiting for the day he gets out of it."

Two extra-inning decisions by Mattingly on Wednesday show that the Dodgers' dugout is also skittering toward October.

In the 10th inning, with potential winning run A.J. Ellis on second base, Mattingly did not replace him with a speedier pinch-runner. When Puig singled to right, the rumbling Ellis did not attempt to score, stopping at third base. At that point, Mattingly inserted pinch-runner Erisbel Arruebarrena, who was stranded there when Adrian Gonzalez and Uribe struck out.

Mattingly said he didn't think a speedier runner would have scored on Puig's hit, but how can anyone predict what would happen when you force a struggling defensive team to make two perfect throws? The Dodgers didn't go for it, and the Nationals took it to them.

In the 11th inning, with runners on first and second, Mattingly ordered Pederson to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which moved the runners up but essentially took the bat out of the hands of their hottest power hitter. Yes, of course, with first base open, the Nationals walked pinch-hitter Matt Kemp, who stayed on first as Drew Butera popped out and Gordon struck out to end the inning.

Why take the bat out of Kemp's hands to set things up for light-hitting Butera and struggling Gordon? The Dodgers played right into the Nationals' hands, and ended up giving them the game.

There was so much questionable strategy coming from the Dodgers' dugout late last season that Colletti replaced bench coach Trey Hillman with Tim Wallach. If there's heat again this fall, expect it to fall squarely on Mattingly.

Wait. One last number.

The Dodgers haven't appeared in a World Series in 26 years, the longest such drought in franchise history dating back to the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1884.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke

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