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KURT STREETER

The best brings out the worst in Dodgers

Dodgers can't seem to beat the best pitchers, which could haunt them come playoff time.

August 20, 2009|KURT STREETER

OK, I'm an eternal optimist. I see the Dodgers breaking out of their current funk and winning their division to become one of the favorites to win the World Series.

It's sometimes easy to forget, given the way they've recently played and how injuries and missteps have haunted them, but the Dodgers still have one of the best records in the major leagues. Baseball, of course, is a game of trends, large and small, and there's plenty of reason to believe the larger trend -- being a consistent winner -- will trump the current slump when September and October come.

Still, there's a small but significant trend to worry about. When facing the pitching aces from the National League teams they're likely to meet in the playoffs, the Dodgers are hitting like absolute zeros. In fact, zero is an apt description -- zero wins. They've yet to hang a loss on any of these aces.

We saw it last week; the Dodgers one good game from sweeping San Francisco. Then along comes diminutive Tim Lincecum, 160 pounds of curving, twisting, Cy Young befuddlement. He puts them in a trance.

One pitch from a complete-game victory, the Dodgers almost unimaginably reach him for a single that ties the score in what becomes an extra-inning Giants win.

He doesn't get the W, but all afternoon, Lincecum so crosses-up Dodgers hitters it's as if a minor league team has infiltrated L.A.'s clubhouse, tied everyone up, filched the uniforms and taken the field.

For the season, Lincecum, 12-3 overall, is 1-0 against the Dodgers, who are hitting .203 when facing him, slightly below the majors' .213 average.

In recent days, nothing has changed. This latest series began on Monday with that Midwestern maestro, Chris Carpenter, pitching for St. Louis.

The Dodgers managed to manufacture two runs against him. But overall, they looked edgy, out of sync, and even deferential. They swung early, swung late, swung too hard. Sometimes, they didn't swing at all.

Carpenter, 13-3, now stands at 2-0 against the Dodgers this year. His 2.27 earned-run average this season? It's 1.80 against Torre's boys.

Geez, this is getting a little frightening. And it doesn't help when you check out other potential playoff opponents. Take Jason Marquis, arguably Colorado's best. He's a decent 14-8 with a 3.58 ERA overall. Facing the Dodgers, he's 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA. Then there's Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins. He's 1-0, and holding the Dodgers to a .200 batting average.

Atlanta's Derek Lowe, a semi-ace on a team without a clear standout pitcher? He's 1-0 against the Dodgers.

The Braves' other headliner, Javier Vazquez? You guessed it: 1-0 -- and his ERA drops by nearly two runs against the Dodgers.

What about Philadelphia, last year's World Series champions, last year's Dodgers slayers?

The domination Cole Hamels displayed in the playoffs has continued. He has faced the Dodgers twice. I hardly need to tell you the result: an 0.56 ERA, a 1-0 record.

Hamels hasn't been doing this against everyone else.

As of Wednesday, he was a .500 pitcher and had arguably lost the ace role to Cleveland transplant Cliff Lee.

The Dodgers haven't faced Lee this season. Good thing, he's undefeated with Philly so far.

If he faces the Dodgers in a pennant decider, I'm expecting him to throw a perfect game.

There are good reasons to worry, and good reasons to temper that worry with perspective.

As Ned Colletti said Tuesday, "The pitchers you're talking about, we are not unlike a lot of the other teams against them. Lincecum and Carpenter and these guys? Who doesn't struggle against them?"

True. But no matter how otherworldly the Dodgers help them look, none of the aforementioned is undefeated. Lincecum appeared very human against Cincinnati, giving up five runs in six innings. Consider Lowe and Vazquez, two pitchers who should hardly give an elite team the shakes. They've both lost eight games.

All I'm saying is it would be awfully calming to know the Dodgers could occasionally swing potent bats against the best they'll have to beat.

So far, for the most part, no luck.

Even better, a win or two would sure ease the blood pressure, wouldn't it? If you're a Lakers fan and you're about to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals, aren't you feeling a whole lot better if Kobe Bryant has served up at least one regular-season win against Boston?

Maybe, in the end, this micro-trend ends up not mattering. The playoffs are a series of sprints. You face a load of aces.

They usually win. But once or twice a series you get a Brett Myers, a Jonathan Sanchez, a Jamie Moyer. It's making sure you defeat the journeymen that often separates champion from pretender.

Maybe, in the end, the Dodgers make it to the World Series. Imagine L.A. versus L.A. of Anaheim.

The Dodgers, surprise, surprise, actually have a win over the man who for years has been Southern California's best pitcher. He has a fat 4.20 ERA against them this season. His name is John Lackey.

Finally, an ace the Dodgers own!

--

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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