Whether it's Jason Schmidt struggling through a three-inning start on Sunday or the bullpen that lost Friday night's game and turned a winnable game Monday night into a 6-1 loss to the Cardinals, there's a sense of urgency with the Trade Deadline on Friday.
The Dodgers still have the best record in baseball, but the Cardinals demonstrated what retooling can do. Their three recent acquisitions -- Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo -- drove in a run apiece behind the pitching of ace Chris Carpenter, who went seven-plus innings and is second in league ERA at 2.19.
An ace like Carpenter, the Dodgers don't have. Whether they even have enough relievers is another question.
The only good news out of this game was the impressive return of Hong-Chih Kuo, out nearly three months with his brittle left elbow barking. Kuo pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, with a 95-mph fastball, an indication that he's healthy, at least for now.
"He looked pretty good to me," manager Joe Torre said. "It was nice to get him back in the mix."
Wolf had his sixth consecutive quality start, allowing two runs in six innings -- one reaching base on a hit batter, the other scoring on an infield single. But rookies James McDonald and Brent Leach followed and were charged with four runs. McDonald allowed a home run to DeRosa on his first pitch.
Three of the runs were unearned because third baseman Casey Blake, whose recent soft throws hint at a sore arm, bounced a throw for an error. Veteran Guillermo Mota allowed two inherited runners to score by allowing a double to Brendon Ryan, his fourth hit of the game.
McDonald has allowed eight runs (four earned) in his past 3 1/3 innings. Leach had become Torre's situational left-hander, but of the past 12 batters he's faced, seven have reached base (five hits, two walks).
Offensively, the Dodgers tested Carpenter, but he made enough big pitches to induce four double-play bouncers -- two from Manny Ramirez, who also struck out and doubled in five at-bats.
"He's got a little timing problem," Torre said of Ramirez. "I think physically he's OK. He's not right timing-wise right now."
Ramirez, who missed two of the previous four starts after suffering a bruised left hand, was asked if it was still bothering him.
"It's OK," he said.
"No, it's good."
Then, how about Carpenter?
"He pitched great," he said. "He beat us."
Carpenter went seven-plus innings and allowed one run on a Rafael Furcal sacrifice fly, but he had a lot of help. In addition to the double plays, right fielder Ryan Ludwick made two circus catches to shut off what could have been a big fourth inning for the Dodgers.
"From top to bottom, they've got guys that are quality hitters," Carpenter said. "They've got a nice deep lineup. They put at-bats on you the whole night. But if you go out and make pitches, you're going to get outs. And I was able to make big pitches when I had to."
Coming into the game, seven Dodgers position starters (excluding Ramirez) were a combined 0-for-27 lifetime against Carpenter. They had nine hits against him but went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the game.
"I thought we were fine," Torre said of the offensive approach. "We had a lot of guys on base. He's that kind of pitcher. He gets ground balls and double plays. We had him on the ropes and he still made good pitches. He was pretty darn good when he needed to be."
Wolf was almost as good. He said the only pitch he "didn't like" went for a double to Holliday for the Cardinals' first-inning run. St. Louis strung three singles for a second-inning run, then Wolf held the Cardinals in check.
"I felt I battled back after the first two innings and was able to conserve pitches and have quick innings," he said. "Obviously, Carpenter made the pitches to get out of jams and got ground balls for double plays. They were the better team today."
Wolf said he's pleased with the mechanical adjustment he's made in his windup since getting shelled by the White Sox last month -- a pause as his right leg lifts -- that he said slows down his delivery in the early innings and keeps him from spinning off.
"I told you guys that day I was embarrassed by the way I pitched and there was no way I could get guys out being as bad as I was," he said. "I went back to the drawing board."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less