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Monday, September 9, 2013
Grading the week: hitting a bump in Cincy

By Mark Saxon

After the Dodgers got swept in Cincinnati, ace Clayton Kershaw took the long view.

“Overall, it’s probably a good time to lose some games, if we’re going to end up losing,” Kershaw said.

That may not go down easily for Dodgers fans, who got used to seeing their team take two of three games in a bad series for the previous 2 months and sweep when they played well. But unless we see this team’s struggles bleed into another week or two, he’s got a perfectly valid point.

You don’t want to peak too soon. Get it out of the way now.

Besides, they were playing a Cincinnati team with a little more to play for, coming off a series in Colorado which manager Don Mattingly used as a relief station, resting players in shifts.

With a good week, the Dodgers can still clinch the NL West and then decide whether they want to fight for home field advantage or use the remaining couple of weeks to freshen up.
So, yeah, a 2-4 week is a major dud the way these guys have been going, but with the state of the standings, it still comes across as no biggie.

SCORING

It’s no mystery why the Dodgers hit the skids. They couldn’t score enough runs. It was as if they played the same game in Cincinnati three straight days, got a little burst of offense, put up a bunch of zeroes and waited for something bad to happen at the end.

And it did. The “bad” in this case was having to face Aroldis Chapman.

Even though the Dodgers played half their games last week at a hitting heaven, Coors Field, they batted a ho-hum .274, hit just four home runs and had a disappointing .685 OPS. They struck out more than four times as often as they walked.

They did run into some good pitchers, though, including Jhoulys Chacin, who they beat, and Homer Bailey and Mat Latos, who they did not. If there is anything to worry about from last week, it’s that Reds pitchers pretty much had their way with Dodgers hitters and that could bode ill should the teams meet again in the playoffs.

Then again, regular-season trends tend to go away in October.

Grade: C-

DEFENSE

Unless things start to go seriously sideways in the next few weeks, Edinson Volquez will not start a playoff game for the Dodgers. So, take a deep breath.

In his first chance at showing them what he could do, he showed them exactly what he had been doing for San Diego, giving up a bunch of hits and runs. What messed up the Dodgers pitching was that, after Volquez made his poor start in Colorado, Chris Capuano -- already filling in for injured Hyun-Jin Ryu -- had to leave his start with a strained groin in the second inning.

Suddenly, the bullpen was drained and the wear and tear eventually showed, as the Reds won games decided by the bullpens.

Last week, the Dodgers collectively had a 4.91 ERA. Not good by any team’s standards. Awful by the Dodgers’. Zack Greinke, Ricky Nolasco and Clayton Kershaw were fine, but not dominant, and the rest of the rotation and, even more acutely, the bullpen showed some signs of fray. They still have time to get things ship shape again.

Grade: C-

DECISION-MAKING

Michael Young (.353) had a nice week, his first with the Dodgers. Two of the other recent acquistions, Volquez (7.20 ERA) and Carlos Marmol (5.27 ERA) did not. Brian Wilson had three perfect appearances and one bad one at a crucial time.

The Dodgers have plenty of time to evaluate players’ performances and line things up for the playoff roster, but you can see the makings of one now. Volquez probably needs to pitch brilliantly against Arizona Tuesday night to have any prayer of staying with the Dodgers beyond September and he probably needs to pitch well just to merit another start.

The other three guys seem like pretty good bets to stay with the Dodgers longer.

Manager Don Mattingly took a chance resting so many players in Colorado. For one thing, it sort of stalled the Dodgers’ collective motor, setting them up to look lackluster in Cincinnati.

But it’s pretty clear what was happening. The Dodgers took advantage of the luxury of a major lead to take a step back, hopeful they can take a leap forward between now and clinching day. After that, they’ll probably rest a few more players and then try to rev up for a deep playoff run. Seems like a reasonable strategy.

Grade: B

CHEMISTRY TEST

Here’s what Mattingly told reporters after the sweep in Cincinnati: "I wasn't that excited about our focus during the first two games.”

It might be a good time for leadership from within the clubhouse, snapping everyone back to attention, because things don’t figure to get any easier. The Dodgers didn’t get back to Los Angeles until Monday morning, probably about 14 hours before their three-game series with the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks begins. We’ve already mentioned the taxed bullpen.

For two months and a week, nobody had to worry about chemistry because the Dodgers were winning 80 percent of their games. Now we get a look at the Dodgers’ grinding skills. Do they still remember how?

Grade: C

STATE OF CONTENTION

The Diamondbacks had every opportunity to finally apply a little pressure, but they didn’t. They just kind of sat there, going 3-4 against Toronto and San Francisco, hardly unbeatable opponents. So, Arizona only gained a half-game in the standings and they lost an entire week.

The Dodgers player Arizona in seven of their next 10 games. Those games haven’t felt like they would be make-or-break for a while now, but Arizona could have at least made them interesting if they had played better.

The Dodgers' magic number to clinch the West is 10 games, meaning the earliest it could happen is Friday.

Now, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the Dodgers close this out. For them, of course, sooner is better than later. If they don't play well this week, they will undoubtedly be clinching on the road, because after Sunday, they embark on a 10-game road trip.

Grade: A-