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Column: Dodgers may be running out of time to catch the Giants

The Dodgers' AJ Pollock steals second base before the tag by Phillies second baseman Jean Segura.
The Dodgers’ AJ Pollock steals second base before the tag by Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Jean Segura during the fourth inning on Thursday in Philadelphia.
(Rich Schultz / Associated Press)

Tick … tick … tick.

The clock is running. The calendar is moving. The San Francisco Giants are fortifying. The Dodgers are teetering.

Tick … tick … tick.

The race for what would be the most important of the Dodgers’ nine consecutive division championships is in full sprint now, 47 games left, the season’s biggest moment for baseball’s best roster, yet every time the Dodgers appear to find their footing, they lose their balance.

It happened again Thursday in Philadelphia against a somnolent Phillies offense and awful Phillies bullpen. It happened on a sweltering afternoon during which the Dodgers had a perfect chance to pull off a three-game sweep and apply some hot breath to the aging necks of the Giants.

It happened in a manner that, for the first time, made one wonder if they can really pull this off.

They got three singles. They were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position. They left the bases loaded in the ninth. They blew another brilliant performance by the bullpen. They lost a one-run game for the 21st time in 34 occasions, ranking them among the bottom of the league in that category.

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The final score was 2-1 but felt like 20-1.

Tick … tick … tick.

With six weeks left, the Dodgers trail the Giants by nearly a week’s worth of games, and if they don’t make a bold move soon, they could be staring down at their most difficult postseason route yet.

The Dodgers managed only three hits in a 2-1 loss to the Phillies on Thursday and their record in one-run games fell to 13-21.

As a wild-card team, they would have to play the league’s other wild-card team in a one-game playoff for a chance to advance to the tournament. That other team would probably be the San Diego Padres, who this season have beaten them seven times in 10 games.

The Dodgers would probably start big-game star Walker Buehler, but the Padres could counter that by starting Yu Darvish. In four career starts against the Dodgers, Darvish has a 1.33 ERA while holding the Dodgers to a .101 batting average.

So, yeah, the Dodgers don’t want that. They really, really, really need to win this division. Yet, arrgh, it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Tick … tick … tick.

“We have to get going, for sure,” catcher Austin Barnes said Thursday afternoon.

The frustrating part of all this is, entering the series finale, it seemed like they were actually finally going.

Cody Bellinger was emerging from his two-year slump with four homers in four games including a potential season-changing, 13-pitch homer on Wednesday. Corey Seager was finally finding strength in his surgically repaired hand and batting .316 in his first 10 games since coming off the injured list. Trea Turner mesmerized America with his ballet slide. The bullpen had held the Phillies scoreless for 10 2/3 innings. The offense had outscored the league’s hottest team 13-2.

Then Thursday came and … nothing.

Dodgers pitcher Mitch White looks out as the Phillies' Bryce Harper circles the bases after hitting a home run.
Dodgers pitcher Mitch White looks out as Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper circles the bases after hitting a home run in the first inning on Thursday.
(Rich Schultz / Associated Press)

Bellinger struck out twice. Seager failed twice with runners on base. Max Muncy and Chris Taylor remained mired in slumps, which left them a combined two for 25 for the series. Nobody got a hit against four generally awful Phillies relievers. And while Trea Turner should have been ruled safe on a replay-botched play at first base during their one scoring threat in the fifth inning, two Dodgers benefited from favorable ball calls on walks in the ninth, setting the stage for newcomer Billy McKinney to save the day.

Instead, he flew out to left to end the game and put the team on what was surely a somber train to New York for a weekend series against the Mets.

“We believe in everyone in this clubhouse. We believe this team knows how to win the important games,” Barnes said.

And they do. They’ve proven it. They have championship rings to show for it.

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer had his paid administrative leave extended Friday to Aug. 20. Commissioner Rob Manfred has decisions to make on potential discipline.

But for the foreseeable future they may have to do it without igniter Mookie Betts, sidelined with a hip injury. And they’re trying to do it without Justin Turner, who’s out with a groin injury. And of course, Clayton Kershaw isn’t coming back anytime soon. Then there is the strain on their best player who has not been injured, Taylor having played in 112 of the team’s 115 games and seemingly starting to wear down.

Meanwhile, you know who the overachieving Giants resemble? You’re going to hate hearing this. They’re looking like the 1988 Dodgers.

The Giants won a game in Milwaukee on Saturday when the Brewers’ Avisail Garcia botched what should have been the final out in right field. They won a game Tuesday when the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker booted an out at first base that would have forced extra innings.

The Giants, who shouldn’t be winning, are inventing ways to do so. The Dodgers, on the other hand, sometimes do just enough to lose.

“We feel good about our team. We feel we’re going to start clicking and hopefully go on a good little streak here,” Barnes said. “We were playing pretty good baseball the last few days, and they got us today. We’ll turn the page. I think we’re ready to get on a good streak here and play good baseball.”

Trevor Bauer and his attorneys say the pitcher does not plan to discuss a financial settlement with the woman who has accused him of sexual assault.

They have the bones for such a streak. The rotation has been bolstered not only by Max Scherzer, but by the gritty effort of David Price, who inspired them to one victory in Philadelphia by pitching on both sides of an hour-long rain delay.

The bullpen, meanwhile, is starting to rock behind two Andrew Friedman specials. Alex Vesia, who had a 18.69 ERA in five appearances for Miami last year before being traded here in a controversial deal for the effective Dylan Floro, has been spectacular, striking out nine of his last 11 hitters. Phil Bickford, who had an 18.00 ERA in a game with the Brewers before being picked up off waivers earlier this year, has shined with a 2.16 ERA.

Offensively, AJ Pollock has been one of the best hitters in baseball in the last month, Trea Turner has been blinding at the top of the order, and Seager and Bellinger may be finally finding themselves.

Yet none of that will matter if none of them can step up in these final weeks and, on seminal occasions, make plays big enough to eventually catch the Giants and smother them.

They had a chance to do this Thursday, and they failed.

How many more of these chances will they have left?

Tick … tick … tick.


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