Giving up early runs is a very bad idea

Chris Capuano's slow start Wednesday was consistent with what Dodgers pitching did for three games against the Giants. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- In the first three innings of the past three games, the Los Angeles Dodgers had half as many hits -- three -- as the San Francisco Giants had runs.

Not a good formula for a team that is built on pitching, defense, camaraderie and just enough offense to eke games out. So while it may seem as though the offense is to blame for this week's three-game sweep and the team's subsequent plunge into second place, don't look past the pitching staff.

Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino went three days without getting a meaningful hit. Until the eighth inning Wednesday -- after the Dodgers were long since buried in the game -- the offense looked as though it had been lost by luggage handlers on their most recent road trip.

But teams tend to look flat when they're scrambling to get back to even. Hitting is easier when you're playing loose. Pitching is easier with a lead.

In other words, the Dodgers followed the exact formula for losing these kinds of games. Give people such as Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and, yeah, even Tim Lincecum a lead and you're starting the race by tripping out of the blocks. Especially if you're the Dodgers. They are 25-38 when the other team scores first, 5-44 when they're trailing after six innings.

Clayton Kershaw gave up a double to Angel Pagan leading off Monday's game, which seemed to set the tone for the 27 innings that followed. The Giants scored two runs in the first inning the next night off Joe Blanton and three in the first inning Wednesday off Chris Capuano. It was an escalator to failure in a rivalry series between pitching-rich, offense-challenged teams.

"They kind of got us on the ropes," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You don't want to give Matt Cain a three-run lead the way he throws the baseball."

It's tough to draw sweeping conclusions about the Dodgers aside from the fact that they are involved in a lot of sweeping. Of their past four home series, three have been sweeps, one in the Dodgers' favor, two in the other team's favor.

Mattingly really doesn't know what to make of it, you can tell. He'd prefer the Dodgers gain a measure of consistency and do their losing in more measured doses, but it has been hard to engineer a level of certainty week to week with this team.

That has been most evident when the Dodgers are playing San Francisco. They had one series versus the Giants when they didn't score a run. They had another when they outscored San Francisco 19-4. Now this wasteland of a series.

"It's been a weird season," Mattingly said.

A 2 1/2-game deficit really isn't a big deal on Aug. 22, especially the way these teams have traded the lead all year.

"That's basically even with as many games as we've got left," Capuano said.

True, but what you're looking for in the early days of a pennant race is a formula, something to bank on and rally around as the season starts to form an identity. And what the Dodgers came up with over the past three nights was a burning fuse.