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Dodgers

Column: Déjà blue: With playoffs slipping out of their grasp, Dodgers must break cycle of blowing leads

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - AUG. 22, 2018. Dodgers reliever Scoot Alexander reacts after giving up a solo
Dodgers reliever Scoot Alexander reacts after giving up a solo home run to Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill in the eighth inning.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It’s time for panic baseball.

With apologies to Vin Scully, recent events have conspired to mandate a drastic change to the trademark greeting shouted before every game at Dodger Stadium.

It’s time for alarmed baseball. It’s time for frenzied baseball. It’s time for desperate baseball.

Push that big red button. Push it now.

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The Dodgers weren’t just swept out of a series by the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Chavez Ravine, they were shoved to the brink of a season on the verge of collapse.

Moments after arguably their best player blew up for the second time in three nights — Kenley Jansen just isn’t Kenley Jansen — I received a text from my neighbor Sam. It undoubtedly mirrored messages popping up on phones all across a weary city.

“Dodgers are toast” it read.

No, but you can smell the burning from here.

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Jansen once again came into a tie game, and once again allowed that tie to be cracked wide open with a home run, this time a two-run shot by Paul DeJong in the ninth to give the Cardinals a 3-1 victory and three-game sweep.

This, after Dodgers reliever Scott Alexander allowed the Cardinals to tie the score with a pinch homer by Tyler O’Neill in the eighth.

This, after the Dodgers offense blew a potential winning situation in the eighth when Joc Pederson and Manny Machado both swung wildly into outs with runners on base.

Any of this sound familiar? All of this sound familiar?

This, this, this, and now this … the third-place Dodgers trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by 41/2 games in the National League West with 34 games remaining and hope disappearing as fast as their late-inning energy.

“You can hope, expect...but right now, it’s just not happening for us,” said manager Dave Roberts afterward.

Is it any wonder when the final three Dodgers hitters struck out to end the game, the Dodgers fans not only booed, but shouted and jeered? It was maybe the angriest they have been this season. It was probable also the most disillusioned they have been.

After a victory in Oakland on Aug. 7, the Dodgers were 63-51 and led the division by one-half game.

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Since then they have gone 4-10 and nearly dropped out of sight, not just from the division, but also from a crowded wild-card race.

The downfall began just about the time Jansen was disabled for 11 days with an irregular heartbeat. It was no coincidence that they lost four straight games in their opponents’ final at-bat for the first time in the franchise’s 128-year history. It was also no coincidence that they blew a game or a tie in the seventh inning or later for seven straight games.

But then Jansen came back and — boom, boom, boom — he has given up three homers in his first two appearances, and where do the Dodgers go from here?

Their starting pitching is the best in the league, and Walker Buehler was brilliant again Wednesday with a career-high nine strikeouts in seven innings.

But their bullpen is breathing debacle, Wednesday being the eighth time in the last 14 games that a Dodgers reliever had either blown a lead or allowed a run to break a tie game in the seventh inning or later.

And their hitters are a launch-angle-happy bunch of hackers who either blast home runs or swing themselves out of their cleats. Yes, they lead the league in dingers, but entering Wednesday, they ranked rank 16th in the league in a .737 OPS with runners in scoring position.

They don’t hit grounders that move runners. They don’t shorten up and hit the fly balls that score runners. They strike out with a guy on third base and less than two outs.

”There’s a little maybe extra, I don’t know, into putting into a bigger swing,” Roberts said. “Shortening up is something definitely we could do a better job of, at times.”

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They have seven games remaining against the Diamondbacks, and some folks are saying that gives them control. But at this point, they will probably have to win at least five of those seven games, and can they do that against anybody?

Perhaps the scariest part of all this occurred in the middle of field Wednesday, when they posed for the annual team photo that sent a striking message.

For the rest of the season, this is who they are. This is what they must work with. This is how they will win or lose. There’s probably no major help coming. With makeshift relievers and either fading or frustrated hitters, they have to figure this out themselves.

Roberts was asked before the game about whether there is a sense of urgency, and whether his team feels it, and the manager answered urgently.

“Yeah, there is,” he said. “They should. I feel it. And there should be. Urgency is a good thing. When the stakes are where they’re at, and every game is important, we should play with a sense of urgency.”

Yet through a night in which they managed just two hits, the Dodgers basically played like they had all the time in the world.

In the first inning, Machado worked a two-out walk, but Cody Bellinger struck out swinging, which brought up yet another stat that has plagued this all-or-nothing offense.

“We lead the league in striking out on balls in the middle third of the plate,” said Roberts. “That’s not a good thing … that speaks to the swing and a miss … too big of a swing.”

In the fifth inning, it happened again, when Yasmani Grandal worked another two-out walk, but Yasiel Puig struck out on a slider so frustrating, Puig broke his bat over his knee.

Then, in the eighth, with runners on first and second and one out, Pederson swung and missed badly before grounding out. Then, after Justin Turner walked to load the bases, Machado had a giant swing and miss before grounding out.

Their one run came after Cardinals starter and former Harvard-Westlake star Jack Flaherty threw five hitless innings. That run was, of course, a bases-empty home run by Pederson. They only managed one other single all night.

“Certain guys have a tendency to squeeze the bat, whether they admit it or not,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to be able to temper that anxiety and understand, if they don’t throw a strike, we’ve got to take first base.”

Temper that anxiety? Not a chance.

It’s time for panic baseball.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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