But their discouraging inability to win games that Brad Penny starts is what really has the Dodgers in trouble. It happened again Friday night against the first-place Mets, a 5-2 loss that was winnable.
Penny wasn't ace-like sharp, walking twice as many as he struck out, but he controlled the damage enough that the Dodgers could have won if their offense was up to it, which it wasn't. Penny is 12-4, and in those four losses, his club has scored a total of four runs. He has only one win since July 26, when the Dodgers were 1 1/2 games in front. They're now 3 1/2 games behind in the National League Wild Card chase.
The Dodgers loaded the bases in three different innings with none or one out and scored only twice, on a groundout by Ramon Martinez and a sacrifice fly by Jeff Kent.
Just when it looked like the offense was coming around -- scoring at least four runs in each of the previous nine games -- it suffered a relapse of the squandering that got the team into its current mess earlier this month. The Dodgers were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left a dozen on base.
To be fair, this one was against the Mets, who looked like the same team that swept the Dodgers in last year's playoffs. Oliver Perez pitched seven scoreless innings and had defenders robbing the Dodgers of hit after hit, but it was David Wright who had the Dodgers spewing superlatives. He homered, singled in another run and made three defensive gems.
"It's not often one player takes over a game, but he did," said Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. "With his bat, with his glove, he did it all. Wow ... [it] seemed like he was everywhere. We need better aim."
The Dodgers came into this series off consecutive wins in Philadelphia and six wins in their last eight, but they shrugged off the halt in momentum and dismissed suggestions that the offense has reverted to its impotent ways.
"Because we lose one game, [it] doesn't mean we're as bad as we used to be," Rafael Furcal said. "Their third baseman made a lot of great plays. We lose tonight, but tomorrow, we don't think about tonight. Everybody knows we don't got too much time, but we've got to keep winning. There's a month left, and it doesn't mean we're struggling because we lose this game."
The outcome for Penny was in keeping with his career-long struggles against the Mets in general (5-11) and at Shea Stadium in particular (1-9). The Mets' top three hitters -- Jose Reyes, Ruben Gotay and Wright -- went 5-for-9 with three runs and three RBIs.
|"I didn't have the command I usually have, but I kept the team close enough. It wasn't our night. We hit it right at them. It happens. That's baseball."|
|-- Brad Penny|
"Penny was a little uncharacteristic; his command was off," said manager Grady Little. "But he pitched well enough to win."
The first inning set the tone, when the Dodgers stranded the bases loaded and the Mets opened against Penny with a walk to Reyes, who then stole second and scored on an RBI double by Gotay. The Mets added a run in the third when Reyes doubled and was singled home by Wright, who also took a decent fastball the other way for his 23rd homer in the fifth. Wright is 9-for-15 lifetime against Penny.
"I didn't have the command I usually have, but I kept the team close enough," said Penny. "It wasn't our night. We hit it right at them. It happens. That's baseball."
The Dodgers rallied against the Mets' bullpen, scoring a run in the eighth off Jorge Sosa and one in the ninth off closer Billy Wagner.
But Dodgers reliever Scott Proctor, returning to New York for the first time since his trade from the Yankees, continued to struggle. He allowed a pair of eighth-inning runs on three hits, a walk and a balk, completely changing the Dodgers' comeback task.
Proctor was acquired to keep games like these close. In his first five appearances, he did just that, allowing only one run in 7 2/3 innings, but he hasn't seemed to be the same since pitching two innings in two consecutive games Aug. 8-9. In the eight games since, he has allowed eight runs in 7 2/3 innings, including three home runs.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.