Tuesday, July 5, 2011 Updated: July 6, 8:51 AM ET
Dodgers are out of options
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- There was a moment about three hours before Tuesday's game when I looked up and saw a crowd of reporters gathering around Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Aaron Miles' locker, and I couldn't figure out why.
I knew he was batting third, we would later learn, for just the second time in his career and the first time in eight years, but was this worth an impromptu mini-news conference? But after watching the latest defeat of a Dodgers team appearing more disinterested with each passing day, it dawned on me that Miles batting third was newsworthy after all.
Matt Kemp seems to be the only consistent bright spot in a floundering Dodgers offense.
It might not have summed up everything wrong with this Dodgers team, but it perfectly summed up one of the countless things that are wrong, becoming especially apparent after their 6-0 loss to the New York Mets in front of 32,329 on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Miles was batting third because Andre Ethier wasn't available due to an illness that began as a migraine the night before. Given that this entire offense basically consists of All-Star Matt Kemp and All-Star hopeful Ethier, that pretty much left the Dodgers with no chance. It also left them with no suitable three-hole hitter, so manager Don Mattingly went with Miles, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 180 pounds, boasting one home run all year and 16 of them in nine major league seasons.
Miles did come in having hit .451 over the past month. But third in the order?
"A lot of times, you put a guy there just because you don't want to mess with the rest of the guys," Mattingly said.
By employing one of those high school math formulas we never thought we would ever actually use in life, I figured out that Mattingly can use any of 51,891,840 lineup combinations on a given night (13 position players on the roster, eight lineup spots). Even if that number doesn't add up right, it's obvious that with this roster, there isn't one combination Mattingly could use that gives the Dodgers a chance to win when everything doesn't fall perfectly.
Ted Lilly made sure it all fell as perfectly as he could make it fall. Pushed back a day in the rotation to rest a sore elbow that had prevented him from throwing on the side between his past few starts, Lilly suddenly looked like all was well, pitching well enough to keep the game scoreless for five innings.
But that is about the best a Dodgers starting pitcher can hope for these days, to keep the game scoreless. The Dodgers mounted plenty of scoring threats. They always seem to do that. They just never seem to score.
In this game alone, they got a man to third with two outs in the second and failed to get him in, got a man to third with one out in the third and failed to get him in, loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth and failed to get anybody in, loaded them again in the fifth and failed to get anybody in and got a man to third with two outs in the seventh and failed to get him home.
In all, they went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, the one hit failing to get the man home from second, and they stranded 13 baserunners, 10 of them in scoring position. They might have left another one if Kemp, who was being waved in by third-base coach Tim Wallach, hadn't been thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on a double by Juan Uribe, creating the impression that the Dodgers were so sure of their inability to get a man home from third they didn't want that man stopping at third.
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Wallach later denied that, saying it had no bearing on his decision to send Kemp.
"With Matt running, we have been trying to be aggressive as much as possible," Wallach said. "So yeah, I would've done the same thing."
No matter how aggressive the Dodgers (37-50) are, no matter whom they put into the game, no matter how many ways Mattingly shuffles or overhauls his lineup, the inescapable fact is that the Dodgers, on most nights, are simply overmatched.
The Dodgers' mounting losses -- this was their fourth in a row and sixth in their past seven games -- are largely a matter of their inability to come up with a big hit in a key situation. But the amazing part isn't that they keep wasting chances. The amazing part is that somehow, with this offense, they keep creating chances.
Miles, by the way, left the game with a bruised right elbow after being hit by a pitch in the fifth inning. He is listed as day-to-day, as is Ethier. If neither of them can go Wednesday, Mattingly will have to find somebody else -- somebody even more ill-suited than Miles, if you can imagine that -- to plug into the three-hole.
The good news is that whoever it is probably won't make the Dodgers' offense any worse than it already is.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.