The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the first game of what could be a thrilling start to this pennant race.
Madison Bumgarner out-pitched fellow Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw in the first of a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. The Giants' 2-0 win moved them ahead of the Dodgers, back into first place with a slim half-game lead.
The Dodgers managed just five hits, one of them Hanley Ramirez's solo home run off Sergio Romo with two outs in the ninth inning.
As expected. When the opposing pitcher is going as well as Bumgarner was Monday, sometimes that second run is a back breaker. Kershaw allowed three straight singles to give the Giants a two-run lead in the sixth inning, but he was hardly hit hard. The first two guys reached on infield singles and Pablo Sandoval broke his bat singling to left. Kershaw pitched as he always does against the Giants, brilliantly, holding them to six hits and striking out 10 batters in eight innings. His problem was that the rest of the Dodgers' lineup didn't hit as well as he did (two hits).
Cr-uuuuuz. He's becoming a little bit of a folk hero around Dodger Stadium. Luis Cruz, the 28-year-old veteran of the Mexican winter leagues, has been one of the hottest hitters in the National League. Cruz looked like the only Dodger capable of seeing the ball off Bumgarner -- aside from Kershaw himself -- singling in his first two plate appearances. Cruz batted .448 on the Dodgers' last road trip, so every time he batted, fans chanted "Cruuuuz."
Untouched. Ronald Belisario, like a lot of relievers, isn't always the fans' most popular player. But he is difficult to make contact against and those guys can be useful in meaningful games. Belisario absolutely carved up the middle of the Giants' order in the ninth inning, striking out Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
The Big Chill. After going 0-for-Atlanta, Matt Kemp did something he very rarely does. He joined the bench players and young guys and took early on-field batting practice. He also studied video. Perhaps the extra work will pay dividends in the long run, but it didn't immediately break Kemp out of this slump. He went 0-for-4 and, after striking out to strand a runner at third, started to break the bat over his knee before thinking better of it. Kemp has gone 19 at-bats without a hit, a steep hole.
Cold catcher. A.J. Ellis was the most pleasant hitting surprise on this team before Cruz came along, but he has been in one of his colder stretches at the plate -- batting .206 since Aug. 5 -- and it has contributed to some broken flow in the Dodgers' lineup. Ellis' primary asset is extreme patience, but he has walked just four times in that stretch with a .595 OPS. When you're going bad, you get bad breaks. He had what looked like a sure leadoff single in the eighth inning, but Marco Scutaro made a lunging grab.
Reserve level. Don Mattingly might use his bench less than any manager in the National League these days. Then again, can you blame him? He might have the least-effective reserves of any manager. His first pinch hitter off the bench, Juan Uribe, struck out for the 35th time in 175 plate appearances. Before that at-bat, Uribe was batting .185, not exactly justifying his $8 million salary.