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Manny struggles; LA's lead now one

Manny struggles; LA's lead now one

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LOS ANGELES -- The champagne remains corked. The beer still rests on ice. And the celebration will have to wait at least one more day -- maybe longer.

The Dodgers' trend of despondent play continued for a fifth straight game as the club fell to the Rockies, 4-3, on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

The magic number for the Dodgers to clinch the National League West still sits at one, but now that number also represents the difference in the standings between the Dodgers and Rockies.

The one-game lead is the Dodgers' smallest since April 22. If the Dodgers complete their collapse and cede control of the division to the Rockies, they would become the first squad in Major League history to lead its division or league from May 10 or earlier until the final week and lose it, according to STATS.

There's been plenty to blame for the Dodgers' inability to clinch the NL West, but the man most responsible for the Dodgers' woes this time around? None other than Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez -- whose recent at-bats have been an exercise in how not to come through in the clutch -- struck out in all four of his trips to the plate as the Dodgers fanned a season-high 13 times.

"It's definitely a concern," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said after the game. "He just doesn't look comfortable up there." That definitely was the case Friday as Ramirez continuously looked out of rhythm at the plate.

After almost every pitch, Ramirez stepped back out of the batter's box, paused, adjusted himself, paused again and then stepped back in. That formula only was dysfunctional, and Ramirez came up empty when he could have driven in runs his team desperately needed.

Ramirez stranded Andre Ethier at second base in the first inning. He left runners on second and third in the third. He stranded another man at second to end the fifth.

And then with the Dodgers on the verge of completing an improbable three-run comeback in the seventh, Ramirez struck out with men on first and second.

In all, Ramirez stranded six runners, five of which were in scoring position.

"I just stuck with my best pitch, which was my fastball," said Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who fanned Ramirez three times. "Sometimes it happens. He had a bad day." While a night like that might rattle some hitters, Ramirez seemed at ease with himself after the game.

"My confidence is always up," he said. "I'm one of the best hitters. All you have to do is check my police report and see that I'm still a good hitter."

It's an attitude that Ramirez has shown during the other times he's struggled this season, and he repeated it a couple of different times in the postgame clubhouse.

"Today I had a bad day, but remember, they didn't [build] Rome in one day," Ramirez said. "So I know I'm one of the best hitters in the game, and I'm just going to come tomorrow and be patient."

Ramirez's confidence might not be shaken, but the same cannot be said for the confidence of the fans at Dodger Stadium.

Those sentiments were expressed after Ramirez's fifth-inning strikeout when Dodgers fans showered their embattled slugger with boos, perhaps prompting second baseman Orland Hudson to offer Ramirez some friendly advice as the two players walked back to their respective defensive positions at the start of the sixth inning.

But it seems as though a different approach at the plate -- rather than a quick pep talk -- is what Ramirez really needs right now.

Ramirez is 0-for-10 with eight strikeouts in his past three games. He's hitting just .216 (16-for-74) over September and October, and Ramirez's current .290 batting average is the lowest it's been since April 17.

While Ramirez's swoon might seem to epitomize everything that's gone wrong for the Dodgers this past week, there might be a silver lining somewhere.

The Dodgers aren't the first playoff team to crawl into the postseason. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers lost their last five regular-season games to lose the American League Central to Minnesota. But the Tigers, who entered as the Wild Card winner, made the World Series a few weeks later.

And all it might take for Ramirez is one decent at-bat or one good day at the plate to snap him out of his current funk.

"The only thing I can do is write his name in there, pat him on the back and expect better things to happen," Torre said.

David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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