Dodgers live, sometimes thrive, with little offense

LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig's command of the English language seems to get better by the day.

On Saturday night, Puig, who emigrated just two years ago from Cuba, demonstrated he had even mastered what Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called the "magic words," which were enough to get him ejected by plate umpire David Rackley in the third inning.

"I think there are certain things you just can't do, and that was one of those," Mattingly said.

Vin Scully, who reads lips expertly among his myriad other talents, conveyed Puig's words to the TV audience and anybody in the Dodgers' clubhouse after the team's 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres would have had no doubt what Puig said to Rackley as he stood with his hands on his hips at home plate after getting rung up with a runner at third.

About every two minutes, Juan Uribe or Hanley Ramirez or somebody else repeated it, yelling jokingly in Puig's direction, "You're stupid."

Yeah, that's what he said. Generally, insulting an umpire's intelligence is more than enough to get you tossed. The problem is, losing one of the few dynamic elements to the Dodgers' offense these days can lead to a serious lack of energy and, Saturday, it contributed to more silence in the batter's box, inning after inning.

Mattingly has taken to calling the types of games the Dodgers play, "low-scoring environments." He's not just referring to Dodger Stadium or to the National League West, though those both tend to be plenty pitching-friendly and offense-suppressing.

Mattingly is referring to the climate in Major League Baseball, which has been cleansed of some substances that led to higher-scoring games and is now suffused with quality pitching.

The Dodgers have scored 10 runs in their past four games and somehow managed to win two of them. That, folks, is a low-scoring environment.

For eight innings, they went down with little resistance against Ian Kennedy on Saturday and then, in the ninth, they somehow summoned some excellent at-bats from Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis to pull it out. But what has made the Dodgers particularly effective in low-scoring environments is, of course, their starting pitching, the best in the majors. But Paul Maholm?

Even Maholm, who had been yanked from the rotation two months earlier, suddenly looks like a second-half factor with Dan Haren struggling and Josh Beckett still on the disabled list. Maholm worked six scoreless innings and Mattingly said the team wouldn't hesitate to use him again if they need him after the All-Star break.

"It was almost like he was on a mission to show us he can start," Mattingly said.

Of course, let's not get carried away by Maholm's quick work on the Padres, who have a collective .613 OPS and have scored 82 fewer runs than the second-worst-hitting team in the majors, the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers feel good about their second-half chances because they have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, a revitalized closer, Kenley Jansen, and -- they hope -- a healthy Beckett.

And, by the way, Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt lined up their rotation after the break so that their top three starters all should pitch in San Francisco July 25-27. That's when this pennant race will really begin.

The Giants and Dodgers played the first half in intersecting, but inverse parabolas -- the Giants arcing up for April and May and the Dodgers kicking in in June as San Francisco swooned -- but now they'll go into the break pretty much locked together.

"That guarantees us we'll go into the break in first place," Gonzalez said after Saturday night's win.

The Dodgers will either be tied for first place, one game ahead or two games ahead when they open their second half (which actually only consists of 65 games) on July 18 in St. Louis. And we know one thing with a fair degree of certainty: They’re not only resigned to playing in low-scoring environments, they’re beginning to get cozy in them.