LOS ANGELES -- Nick Punto lay motionless in the dirt in the seventh inning, his face a twisted grimace of exasperation, his fingers mere centimeters from second base. The Cardinals had just picked him off the bag, dousing yet another would-be Dodgers rally. Punto understood the significance as he rose to his feet and began the long trot back to the home dugout.
"It's a lonely place to be," Punto said. "It's a lonely jog off the field."
Lonely? Not quite. Punto's gaffe was one of several Los Angeles mistakes in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, which saw the Dodgers lose, 4-2, in large part because of all those missed opportunities.
The Dodgers are not hitting homers, which is one reason why they have scored seven runs over four NLCS games, but they are also not doing so many of the other things necessary to string together consistent offense.
"Every time we tried to get some momentum going," left fielder Carl Crawford said of Game 4, "something happened."
For example: Punto's pickoff, which Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called an "unbelievable" play by shortstop Pete Kozma and pitcher Carlos Martinez. That sucked the air out of a Dodger Stadium crowd that had begun rocking after Punto's one-out double brought the tying run to the plate.
For example: Andre Ethier's out on the basepaths following his leadoff single in the ninth. Though Ethier was certain to be erased on Yasiel Puig's grounder, he might have been able to stay in a rundown long enough for Puig to sprint safely to first.
For example: Pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker's hitting into a double play on the second pitch he saw in the fourth inning, putting a sudden end to the Dodgers' only scoring rally.
"There haven't been too many balls hit this series, from either team," Crawford said. "We've got to just grind it out and see what happens."
Many fans point to June 22 as the date the team's season reversed course, and rightfully so: The Dodgers won 42 of 50 beginning that night to spark their miraculous transformation from last-place goats to World Series contenders.
All the while, increased offense slicked the tracks. From June 22 through the end of the regular season, the Dodgers averaged 4.38 runs per game, one of the best rates in the league. Compare that with the 3.54 they averaged from Opening Day through June 21, which ranked 28th of 30 teams.
The Dodgers continued scoring runs into the first week of October, averaging 6.5 per game in four NL Division Series games against the Braves. But their bats have suddenly gone cold in the NLCS, and the numbers are startling. The Dodgers have not hit a single home run all series. They are reaching base only 28 percent of the time. They have hit into six double plays. They are batting .223.
Much of that can be traced back to St. Louis' pitching staff, which is accustomed to silencing even the game's most potent lineups. But the Dodgers have also been playing without injured superstar Matt Kemp, and with Hanley Ramirez and Ethier at less than 100 percent.
"Our pitching has been great this series," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Our offense hasn't come through."
Now time is running out. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez noted that the Dodgers should improve in Game 5, when they start facing Cardinals starting pitchers for a second time, beginning with rookie Joe Kelly.
Like so many of his teammates, Gonzalez expressed optimism that things will change soon.
For the Dodgers, they must. The alternative is going home.
"We know what adjustments we need to make against them, and that's to our advantage," Gonzalez said. "This game is about adjustments, and we've got to make them."