PHOENIX -- The Dodgers are a different team without shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the lineup.
Ramirez came out of Thursday's game against the Giants at Dodger Stadium in the seventh inning with an aggravation of a left hamstring injury. The Dodgers won that night in extra innings, but have lost the four games since with Ramirez on the bench.
Asked how far away he is from returning after Monday night's 2-1 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field, Ramirez said, "I don't know, still day to day. I haven't run. I haven't done anything yet."
That's certainly not good news for the Dodgers, whose magic number for clinching the National League West title has been four since Friday, when the second-place D-backs lost to the Rockies.
It is one of the mystic qualities of baseball that the ultimate places are the hardest to reach. And the earliest the Dodgers can clinch is on Wednesday night at Chase Field with back-to-back wins over the D-backs.
"It goes into what I always think about September," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's hard to win games. And I don't care who you are or what's going on, games get hard to win. That's just what it is. The games are hard to win when the finish line is so close."
And this is just what it is: The Dodgers are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have scored just 38 runs, eight of them coming in one game.
When the streak began, they were 83-55. They are 86-64 now. Frustrating?
"We don't get frustrated," Ramirez said. "We just stay positive, come back tomorrow, tie up the series and then go from there."
Call it a Tale of Three Seasons.
It is now May all over again with Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and even Scott Van Slyke nursing nagging injuries. Kemp, who had been out since July 21 with a left ankle sprain, was activated off the disabled list just before the game. Mattingly used him as a pinch-hitter with two out and two men on in the top of the ninth. Arizona closer Brad Ziegler struck him out swinging on a pitch outside the zone.
Mattingly said Kemp is hitting just fine in batting practice, but seemed tentative running the bases. Thus, Kemp will be limited to pinch-hitting duties until the medical staff deems him fit to run without re-injuring the ankle. One more setback and he'll be out for the season, Mattingly acknowledged.
Kemp has been disabled three times with ankle, shoulder and hamstring injuries. He's played in 63 games, has five homers, 27 RBIs, is batting .262, and has been a non-factor.
Ramirez is another story. He suffered a dislocated right thumb diving for a grounder in the Dominican Republic's championship-game victory over Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and missed the first month of the season after surgery. Almost immediately upon his return, he strained the left hamstring and missed another month. All told, he lost 52 games.
His reactivation on June 4 coincided with the elevation of Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig from Double-A, and as Mattingly so aptly put it on Monday night, no tale about the success of the next portion of the season can be told without linking Ramirez and Puig.
"Puig was part of it," Mattingly said. "But you can't say Puig without saying Hanley. Puig gets a lot of attention, but Hanley really has been the force."
On June 22, the Dodgers were 31-42 and a distant 9 1/2 games behind the first-place D-backs. They were a historic 42-8 in their next 50 games, taking over first place for good on July 22.
Ramirez helped carry the Dodgers with a 19-game hitting streak from June 19 to July 8, batting .486 (36-for-74) during that span.
His .342 batting average leads the team and his 18 homers and 53 RBIs are good for second, all coming in 79 games. Puig, in comparison, is hitting .336 with 16 homers and 38 RBIs in 92 games.
No wonder the Dodgers are struggling without Ramirez. Puig looked fairly ordinary on Monday night, walking twice and striking out twice batting in the cleanup spot, although one of the walks occurred with the bases loaded in the sixth and accounted for the Dodgers' only run. On Sunday in Los Angeles, he had a chance to tie the score with two out and the bases loaded against Giants closer Sergio Romo. He grounded into a forceout on the first pitch.
Mattingly hit Puig in the leadoff spot last week. And the batting order was certainly more dangerous with Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Ethier in the middle of it. The injuries are now forcing Mattingly to make some adjustments with the champagne of a clinching party so close he can taste the bubbly dripping off his brow.
The Dodgers now are in chapter three of an unforgettable season and there's no telling how it will turn out. It's a story of injury, revival and leaping over that last hurdle.
"It all kind of came together," Mattingly said. "And now it's unraveling apart. Let's see if we can put it back together and see where we go."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.