You can complain all you want about the Dodgers offense, and rightfully so. But there won't be much to play for this summer until the starting five gets used to going more than five.
The Dodgers' starting pitchers have thrown the fewest innings of any major league team this season, an enormous problem for a club that fancies itself a contender. Chad Billingsley took his turn Saturday, briefly.
Chris Sampson did the Dodgers in, scattering three hits over seven innings and leading the Houston Astros to a 5-0 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
Billingsley turned in five innings. For the seventh time in eight games, the Dodgers' starting pitcher failed to complete six.
"It's a concern," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. "You know, over 162 games, you're going to go through stretches like this. You hope they don't last too long."
You hope the offensive drought doesn't last too long, either. Sampson entered the game with a 7.98 earned-run average.
The Dodgers have lost three consecutive games, all without injured leadoff batter Rafael Furcal, scoring two runs in their last 30 innings.
"If you're winning, you wouldn't be frustrated," Furcal said. "The way we're playing now, it's very tough for me."
Billingsley did himself in over the first two innings Saturday, sinking the Dodgers into a 5-0 hole that could have been much deeper.
In the first inning, he threw two wild pitches and hit a batter. In the second, he had nothing to do with any of the outs. Sampson struck out when he bunted a third strike foul, and right fielder Matt Kemp assisted in throwing two runners out.
Yet Torre said he did not consider removing Billingsley in the second inning, and not because the bullpen has been taxed recently.
"Usually, your starter is allowed to give up five runs," Torre said. "Right now, five runs seems like a lot, because we're not swinging the bats."
In his second full season in the major leagues, Billingsley continues to strike out many batters, walk too many and make too many pitches. He is 2-5 with a 4.89 ERA, with 44 strikeouts and 23 walks in 38 2/3 innings.
He made 96 pitches Saturday, in five innings. He is averaging 95 pitches and 5.5 innings a game.
"I think it's just experience," Torre said. "He has to find the tempo that's going to best serve him.
"It's simple for me to say that, but he's out there with that emotion. It's how he channels it."
On consecutive pitches in the first inning, Billingsley threw a wild pitch, hit Miguel Tejada with a pitch, then threw another wild pitch.
The Dodgers walked Lance Berkman intentionally, loading the bases with one out. Carlos Lee followed with a sacrifice fly, and Darin Erstad with a two-run double, and the Astros led, 3-0.
In the second, the Astros again loaded the bases with one out, and Tejada singled home the runs that gave the Astros a 5-0 lead.
Kemp's relay trapped Kaz Matsui in between second and third base. Berkman followed with a double, but Kemp and second baseman Jeff Kent threw Tejada out trying to score.
The double gave Berkman 19 hits in 25 at-bats, making him the second player in 50 years to do so, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals also had 19 hits in 25 at-bats, in 2003.
The Dodgers had one golden opportunity to get back in the game, and they blew it.
With runners on second and third with no outs in the fifth inning, Chin-lung Hu, Mark Sweeney and Juan Pierre grounded out.