The Dodgers will open a four-game series tonight against the best team in baseball, one day removed from dropping a series to the National League’s worst.
The Chicago Cubs will enter Dodger Stadium with the best record and highest run total in the big leagues, quite an obstacle for a Dodgers team that has lost eight of its last 10 games and has fallen three games under .500.
Noting how the Cubs’ recent surge to the top of the majors began with a sweep of the Dodgers last week, Manager Joe Torre said, “We got them started, so hopefully we can stop them.”
Doing so will require the Dodgers to put an end to their problems at the plate, which continued Wednesday in their second loss to the Colorado Rockies in as many days, this time by a 2-1 margin. Torre’s team was held to six hits, four of which didn’t leave the infield, and was held to two or fewer runs for the seventh time in its last 10 games.
The first three of those games were against the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week and the three starters they faced in that series -- Ryan Dempster, Sean Gallagher and Carlos Zambrano -- will be the first three starters they’ll face in this one.
“They got us pretty good over there,” left fielder Juan Pierre said. “Hopefully we can make the proper adjustments and hit them pretty good.”
Because of the lack of production in recent weeks, Torre said that when Jeff Baker took Clayton Kershaw deep to left field in the second inning Wednesday to put the Dodgers down, 2-0, the margin felt significantly larger.
“We’re just not scoring runs, man,” outfielder Matt Kemp said.
Though Torre told his players in a team meeting in New York last week to not think about the players on the disabled list, the reality is that scoring runs has become significantly more difficult without Rafael Furcal in the lineup. Furcal, who leads the Dodgers with a .366 average, last played May 5 and is out indefinitely because of tightness in his lower back.
Furcal’s replacements haven’t fared well.
Until Chin-lung Hu reached base in the sixth inning on an infield hit, Dodgers shortstops were a combined 0 for their last 36. Hu moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Chan Ho Park and groundout by Pierre, and scored on a hard grounder by Kemp that shortstop Omar Quintanilla couldn’t handle.
“About time,” said Hu, who broke an 0-for-22 slump with the infield hit off winning starter Aaron Cook, who went eight innings.
Luis Maza, who shares time with Hu at short, is also slumping. Playing second base in place of Jeff Kent on Wednesday and hitting in the No. 7 position in front of Hu, he was 0 for 3, making him hitless in his last 16 at-bats.
Of the lack of offensive production by the shortstops, Torre said, “It’s a concern, but it’s tough to say you’re disappointed because you’re asking them to do something we didn’t have designs of them doing.”
In addition to Furcal, the Dodgers could also lose Kemp, who could be suspended today for his physical altercation Tuesday night with Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
Over the next four days, the Dodgers can at least count on their pitching, which held baseball’s highest-scoring lineup to eight runs in the three games at Wrigley Field last week. The Dodgers lost the first two games 3-1 and were in line to win the series finale until closer Takashi Saito blew a save in the ninth.
“We just put that much more pressure on ourselves because of the way we have been swinging the bats,” Torre said.