Make no mistake, this has been a disastrous stretch for the Dodgers.
They have lost 10 of their last 11 games, the most recent a 9-0 defeat to the New York Mets on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers ended a 33-inning scoreless streak the previous night, only to start a new one that has extended to 14 innings.
But the Dodgers aren’t acting or sounding like a team that is now on a six-game losing streak, or one that has squandered what was once a 71/2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Clubhouses of losing teams are often tense and quiet, even before games. Here, as the Dodgers sit in second place, the pregame atmosphere is no different than it was when they had the best record in all of baseball.
Before they were completely mastered over eight scoreless innings by knuckleballing sensation R.A. Dickey, Juan Rivera and Ronald Belisario were playing music in front of Rivera’s locker.
Rivera ran a comb-like scraper along the side of a steel percussion instrument. Belisario was tapping on bongos. At their feet was an overturned cap into which laughing teammates dropped money.
Told the scene was atypical for a team playing the way the Dodgers are playing, Rivera shrugged.
“How many games do we play in a season?” he asked.
His point was that their rut is only a small stretch in a long season.
This is what Manager Don Mattingly wants.
Mattingly has frequently said that his primary task is to give his team direction, and he’s doing that in this time of crisis by offering the players a message of extreme optimism.
He says that if someone had told him at the start of spring training that the Dodgers would be one game out of first place at this stage in the season despite the number of injuries they have suffered, he would have been delighted.
“We need to keep perspective of where we are,” Mattingly said.
They are one game out of first place with 84 games remaining in the season, with injured regulars Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Mark Ellis getting to close to returning.
If the smiles and laughs in the clubhouse are any indication, the players are accepting the narrative — either that or they don’t care, and Mattingly insists his players do care.
Of course, if games like the one Friday night continue to mount, the Dodgers’ beliefs will be challenged.
Unable to do anything against Dickey’s dancing knuckleball, the Dodgers had one man reach base in the first five innings — and that was pitcher Aaron Harang, who singled in the third.
Harang had a better night at the plate than he did on the mound, as he gave up two runs in the third inning and three in the fifth to put the Dodgers behind, 5-0. In all, Harang was charged with five runs (four earned) and seven hits in 52/3 innings.
Rookie reliever Shawn Tolleson was tagged for four runs (three earned) in a vicious seventh inning that included a three-run home run by Daniel Murphy.
The Dodgers’ offense has scored two runs in its last 48 innings and is in clear need of reinforcements. Though Ethier could be only days from returning, Kemp probably won’t be back until after the All-Star break.
Pitcher Garrett Gould, a former second-round pick, was scratched from his scheduled start in Class A on Friday night, a possible sign the Dodgers might have a deal in the works.
The Dodgers are known to have inquired about Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros.
But Mattingly said that the Dodgers don’t have to rush to make a trade, even if they figure to be without Kemp for at least nine more games.
“Are you kidding?” Mattingly said. “Did you see what happened to St. Louis last year? There’s a long way to go. It’s not even getting sticky yet.”