LOS ANGELES -- The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in a series with a lot at stake in a stadium filled with revved-up fans stoked by a rivalry, they played their best baseball of the season, outscoring the San Francisco Giants 17-4 over a three-game sweep at AT&T Park two weekends ago.
Where did that team go?
A sloppy weekend against the last-place Chicago Cubs seemed pretty easy to explain, as the back of the Dodgers’ rotation continued to sputter in two of those games.
But the lights were bright again Monday night, the steamrolling Los Angeles Angels were in town and it felt as if it would once again bring out the Dodgers’ best. Their second-best starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, was on the mound.
Instead, it brought out their bad habits. They fumbled the ball around at times, paid scant attention at times and made, according to the man who threw it, “one of the worst pitches ever thrown.”
Of course, there’s always tomorrow. The Dodgers are still in first place -- by a dwindling 1½ games -- and they have three more cracks to capture Southern California bragging rights for their fans over the next three nights, one of them behind Clayton Kershaw.
But the sloppiness that plagued the Dodgers in April and May has crept back into their play over the past four games. And it has begun to get on some peoples’ nerves. Some people who matter.
“You look at this game as a playoff-type game from the standpoint of the type of team you’re playing, and you make mistakes, you pay,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “It’s as simple as that.”
Hanley Ramirez, who had a -1.0 defensive WAR entering the game, according to Baseball Reference, made two throwing errors, one of which led to an unearned run in the first inning. The end of the half-inning saw the Dodgers in a quick 4-0 hole. Carl Crawford made two failed attempts at sliding catches, one of which was hit by Mike Trout -- one of the fastest players in baseball -- and it got by Crawford and went to the wall for an RBI double.
It was the kind of effort that would get you beaten by a team like the Cubs. Against a team like the Angels, who play strong defense and are 23 games over .500 in the powerhouse AL West, it’s a good way to get embarrassed.
It was not the way the Dodgers wanted to start off this interleague series, especially in front of more than 53,000 fans.
“We’ve had three games [in the past four] where we basically lost in the first inning,” Mattingly said.
That trend is beginning to bother Greinke, too. Like fellow starter Dan Haren, many of his worst starts have seen him labor early. He has a 5.87 ERA in the first inning.
“It seems to be the problem too often,” Greinke said. “I was not even close to hitting the spot to Trout and Pujols, and they did what they should have.”
His sixth-inning changeup to Josh Hamilton was thrown too hard and right down the middle, and Hamilton pummeled it over the right-field wall.
“That was probably up there with the worst pitches ever thrown,” Greinke said. “I just couldn’t believe I could throw that bad a pitch at that important a time.”
The Dodgers described Angels starter Garrett Richards as “electric,” and he certainly was that, touching 96 mph in the ninth inning and striking out nine batters to get the shutout. But he mostly just piled up ground balls, 12 in all. The Dodgers got only four balls airborne off Richards.
There are games when the opposing pitcher is simply going to be better than you. It hurts more when you make it that much easier for him.