- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Didn't that look familiar?
Santa Cruz. At times, it seems like there's only one hitter not gripping the bat so tightly that it might turn to sawdust. That player is Luis "Cochito" Cruz, whose gift is again providing the only sign of life in this lineup. Maybe that's because he doesn't feel as much pressure as more established players. He doubled in back-to-back at-bats off Jordan Zimmermann, while the rest of the order was going down quietly. If nothing else, the Dodgers might have learned they don't have to spend money in the free-agent market this winter searching for a third baseman.
Solid start. Manager Don Mattingly used 10 pitchers in Sunday's extra-inning game, setting a franchise record. On Wednesday, he pulled Aaron Harang with one out in the fifth inning, even though Harang had been working hard to stay out of trouble. Mattingly is managing games right now as if every one of them were the seventh game of the World Series, which tells you the state of this team. It's not Harang's fault that Mattingly came and got him so soon. Harang managed to keep the Dodgers in the game despite allowing seven hits and two walks in a relatively short outing. Again, the pitching hasn't been the problem.
Relief pitching. The Dodgers' bullpen isn't responsible for this loss any more than John Ely is responsible for that extra-inning loss at home on Sunday. When you don't score, even the tiniest blip from your bullpen is going to be exposed. These relievers aren't making many mistakes, but they're being exposed. Shawn Tolleson gave up a run, but the bullpen went 3 2/3 innings allowing just three hits, not bad work.
Not-so-big bats. The most distressing part of this slump is that it's the Dodgers' key hitters who are doing the most -- or is that the least? -- damage. In the seventh inning, the Dodgers had a runner at third with one out. Andre Ethier struck out, Matt Kemp walked and Adrian Gonzalez struck out. In the ninth, the Dodgers got another runner on and Ethier and Kemp made outs. It's almost as if the Dodgers have to get through the middle of their lineup before they can think about scoring runs.
Pressure cooker. The Dodgers are at their worst in clutch situations right now. They went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position Wednesday. In their previous "can't lose" road series, in San Francisco, they went 1-for-23 with RISP. The Dodgers are not hitting home runs, they're not moving runners over, and they're not coming up with clutch hits. That's a trifecta of ways to not score.
Ellis' island. For most of this season, catcher A.J. Ellis has been the other pleasant surprise to go with Cruz. The Dodgers didn't know what they would get out of him offensively, so his first five months were a boon. His patience, at times, stands out in a hack-away lineup. But lately, Ellis has joined everybody else in the cold-case files. He might have just grown tired from all those consecutive starts, but Ellis hasn't gotten a hit in 19 straight at-bats. That's awhile.