PITTSBURGH -- For 24 innings here, the Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be roughly the equal of one of the National League Central’s powerhouse teams.
By the time the seventh inning was over, they hardly looked like they belonged on the same field. The Pittsburgh Pirates scored nine runs off the Dodgers’ suspect bullpen that inning to beat them 13-6 and complete the three-game sweep at PNC Park. Each of the first two games of this series was decided by one run.
Adding to the Dodgers’ misery, they lost Howie Kendrick, their best right-handed hitter this season, to a hamstring injury in the fifth inning. Kendrick left the game immediately without consulting trainers and appears likely to hit the 15-day disabled list.
How it happened: The Dodgers certainly didn’t pitch well in this series. Their starters had shaky command and left the bullpen, hardly a fortress to begin with, exposed. Alex Wood allowed three runs Sunday, but lasted just five innings as his command abandoned him in the fifth. Andrew McCutchen hit a massive two-run home run to center field on a chest-high fastball.
Reliever Jim Johnson was supposed to help provide answers for late-inning, close-game situations, but he has raised nothing but questions since he came over in the trade with the Atlanta Braves. Johnson has given up runs in every outing as a Dodger. Sunday, he entered a clean seventh inning with a two-run lead and things got exceptionally messy. He hit Jung Ho Kang with a pitch and things unraveled from there. One of the hits, Starling Marte's dribbler to third base, was a cheapie, but Johnson certainly wasn’t sharp. The key blow was McCutchen’s two-run single through the left side. The exclamation mark was Kwang’s three-run blast off Joel Peralta.
Wood has a 5.56 ERA as a Dodger. Johnson has a 29.45 ERA as a Dodger. So far, the three-way trade the Dodgers made before the deadline has proven less than fruitful.
The Dodgers put heavy pressure on the Pirates’ starting pitchers all series. On Sunday, they nickel-and-dimed Charlie Morton, using nine singles and two doubles to score five runs in the first five innings. Adrian Gonzalez, on pace for another 100-RBI season, drove in two of those runs with singles.
What it means: In losing a slug-it-out series here, the Dodgers couldn’t extend their lead over the San Francisco Giants, who also were swept in their series with the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers remain three games ahead in the NL West. And, at least for now, the NL Central looks like the far superior division.
Notable: The Dodgers played poor outfield defense in the seventh inning as the Pirates rallied to tie it up. Yasiel Puig, who had just entered the game, seemed to break late on Michael Morse's single to right, then he threw wildly past the cutoff man for an error to let Morse take second. Andre Ethier didn’t pick up Neil Walker's shallow pop-up quickly enough and, by the time he recovered, had to make a sliding catch, allowing Morse to score on a sacrifice fly. ... Here’s a silver lining on the bullpen: Juan Nicasio managed to go an inning without giving up a run. All four of his August appearances have been scoreless. With Johnson’s meltdown, he and Pedro Baez figure to emerge as the primary right-handed setup men.
Up next: The Dodgers were scheduled to touch down early Monday morning about 13 hours before first pitch of their game with the Washington Nationals. Starting pitcher Brett Anderson (6-6, 3.06 ERA) flew ahead of the team, however. He’ll be opposed by lefty Gio Gonzalez (8-4, 3.75 ERA) in a game that starts at 7:10 p.m. PT.