These were supposed to be good times for the Dodgers after their tumultuous previous season.
Dodger officials used the resources of the Fox Group to reshape the ballclub, believing they created something special. And they still might achieve their lofty goals.
Then again, they might not.
The Dodgers continued moving in the wrong direction Friday night in a 10-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
They provided many reasons for most in a sellout crowd of 53,683 to leave early, playing poorly throughout the opener of a three-game series.
The Dodgers (21-20) lost for the fifth time in six games. They are 1-3 on the six-game home stand.
Things can always be worse. But the Dodgers acknowledge this is bad.
"I don't want anybody getting down. It's disappointing that our starting pitching has been inconsistent, but we just have to keep fighting," Manager Davey Johnson said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight going in[to the season], and things aren't going like we thought they would right now, but we have a lot of talent on this ballclub and we're going to keep working together and keep staying focused until we get it right."
The Cardinals took command by scoring four runs in the second inning against Dodger starter Ismael Valdes (4-2), defeating the Dodgers for the fifth time in seven meetings this season. Cardinal left fielder Ray Lankford continued to torment the Dodgers, hitting two homers for the second time in his last two games against them.
The Dodgers wasted left fielder Gary Sheffield's third multihomer game of the season. Sheffield hit his eighth and ninth homers after going 47 at-bats without a homer beginning play Friday.
The Dodgers committed four errors--including two by third baseman Adrian Beltre. They were held in check for five innings by converted Cardinal reliever Juan Acevedo (3-1), who gave up only one run on Sheffield's first homer in the fourth.
Acevedo began the game with a 7.45 earned-run average.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the sixth against reliever Mike Mohler, cutting the lead to 6-4 on three consecutive two-out, run-scoring singles. Once again, though, they couldn't overcome their earlier problems.
St. Louis stole seven bases in eight attempts against catcher Todd Hundley, whose inability to throw out runners has been a problem throughout the first quarter of the season. Ineffective starting pitching remains the biggest problem, and Valdes had his worst outing of the season.
The story was painfully familiar to Johnson, who feels as though he's stuck in a recurring nightmare.
"He didn't have his best stuff," Johnson said of Valdes, "and it was a labor for him. It looked like he didn't have much, and when you don't make your pitches and hang fastballs out over over the plate, you're going to get hit against this lineup. We had to go to the bullpen in the fifth."
The Cardinals (22-18) have won five of their last six games, including three in a row over the Dodgers spanning two series.
Valdes' poor performance contributed to two of the losses. On Friday, the right-hander was chased after 4 1/3 innings, marking his shortest outing of the season.
Valdes gave up six hits and was charged with six runs (four earned). He gave up his 12th homer in 57 1/3 innings when Lankford led off the second with a solo shot to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
Lankford hit his second homer--a two-out, two-run shot--in the eighth against reliever Doug Bochtler. His seventh homer gave the Cardinals a 9-6 lead after Sheffield's two-out, two-run blast in the seventh cut the deficit to 7-6.
Lankford hit a one-out, two-run, game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth against Dodger closer Jeff Shaw in a 5-4 victory last Sunday a Busch Stadium. He hit his first homer in that game against Valdes.
"Our pitching is going to come around. We know that," Johnson said. "With the history that these guys have, you have to believe it's going to happen, because they've done it before. That's what we need right now."