Dodgers stick with formula, flub equation

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw threw a nasty slider in the dirt, it skipped through Drew Butera's legs and the winning run scored.

With two runners on base, Andre Ethier scalded a low line drive and it went right to shortstop Zack Cozart, who caught it and started an easy inning-ending double play.

Homer Bailey pitched a lot more like the guy who threw two no-hitters than the guy who had a 5.34 ERA coming in. When the Los Angeles Dodgers left the game in the hands of Aroldis Chapman and his 102-mph fastball, that wasn't really playing the percentages.

In other words, the Dodgers lost because of an accumulation of little things against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night in a 3-2 defeat. Considering all the big things that were piling up around this team about a week ago -- sloppy fielding, an unreliable bullpen -- they can live with these kinds of losses more than those kinds of losses.

And, yeah, there's a difference in the feelings that linger in a clubhouse. Wednesday's loss was the Dodgers' third in their past nine games, and nobody seemed too glum about it afterward.

"I just think, overall, we're playing better," Kershaw said after losing to Bailey despite striking out nine batters over seven innings. Not long ago, it wasn't fun being a Dodgers starting pitcher. Their pitch counts were driven up by poor fielding behind them and their leads were rarely safe once they left the game.

Lately, the mound has been a more pleasant place to work around this team. One guy, Josh Beckett, threw a no-hitter. Another, Hyun-Jin Ryu, did more than flirt -- he courted -- a perfect game. The next two, Zack Greinke and Kershaw, combined for 20 strikeouts between Tuesday and Wednesday. None of these things -- better defense, stauncher relief, improved starters' morale -- are unrelated, by the way.

"I don't think we're at a point where we want to live with any loss really, but I do feel like these are the types of games we're going to win our share," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

So, the Dodgers have made some legitimate fixes in the past couple of weeks. If there's one thing they could use right now, it's a little more Hanley Ramirez. Or maybe it's a little less Hanley Ramirez. They could use more production, which might mean a little less effort and a little shorter swing from the player who -- along with Yasiel Puig -- ignited this team's run in 2013.

Puig has done all the igniting he can -- he has reached base in 29 straight games and is batting .406 with eight home runs this month -- but there's something about a one-two punch.

Ramirez returned from a strained calf two days ago and has gone 1-for-8. He struck out twice Wednesday and Mattingly continues to see a player trying to do too much. Ramirez is batting .245 and his .764 OPS tells a different story than the 1.040 he produced last season, best in the National League.

"Well he's just not clicking the ball the way he did last year," Mattingly said. "Hanley's a guy that's going to hit. I'm confident he's going to hit. He's just not quite squaring up on that ball away from him, it looks like right now."

The Dodgers have squared up some unruly edges of their team, but a few more wouldn't hurt.