Advertisement

BILL PLASCHKE

Panic? No. Concern? Definitely.

Chad Billingsley, Manny Ramirez don't get the job done against the Padres.

September 30, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM SAN DIEGO — Another night of wait. Another pound of weight.

The Dodgers again failed to clinch the National League West championship here Tuesday, but the stress of the bubbly is nothing compared to the burden of the Bills.

They lost to the San Diego Padres, and Chad Billingsley still couldn't find himself.

They still haven't finished off the Colorado Rockies, while Billingsley is still just plain, you know, rocky.

The final score was 3-1, while the final verdict on Billingsley is nearing, and it might not be pretty.

Worry about him. Don't worry about the Dodgers winning the division. At least not yet.

"Four games to win one, right?" Matt Kemp asked afterward with a relaxed grin. "I think we can do that, can't we?"

Well, they haven't done it in three tries so far against two of the worst teams in baseball, but they will have their fourth consecutive chance at a clinching tonight, the magic number being one, either a victory here or a loss by Colorado to the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's just been one of those weeks," Kemp said. "It's starting to bother us, but we'll be all right."

If the Dodgers can't do it here, they can do it during a final weekend series at Dodger Stadium against a pressure-laden Rockies team that cannot lose any of its remaining five games if it wants to win the division.

Billingsley, however, is running out of chances.

On a night when the offense struggled against a kid making his debut start -- Manny Ramirez is an absolute horror show right now -- the Dodgers needed Billingsley to be at his playoff best.

He was. Then, quickly and typically, he wasn't.

He held the Padres hitless until one out in the third inning, when he lost a fastball that Tony Gwynn Jr. lined into the right-field seats for only his second homer in 245 major league games.

Billingsley focused again for a couple of innings until he fell apart again in the sixth, with the score tied 1-all, only this time the collapse was prolonged.

He walked David Eckstein. He walked power-hitting Adrian Gonzalez for the third time in the game. One out later, he walked Will Venable to load the bases.

This being Billingsley, and this being September -- in which he had a 5.70 earned-run average -- you know what happened next.

Kevin Kouzmanoff singled up the middle to give the Padres a 2-1 lead.

"When you get out of rhythm, sometimes it takes so long to get it back," Billingsley said with a frustrated sigh.

Soon thereafter, the Rockies defeated the Brewers on an 11th-inning walk-off homer, the scoreboard glaring the result, the Dodgers shaking their heads.

"I'm like, dang, we've got to win this game," Kemp said.

However, instead of being inspired, they seemed deflated, playing the rest of the night as if numb, their final six batters failing to hit the ball out of the infield.

They will wake up soon, one assumes. And by next week, this recent crawl of five losses to three of the worst teams in baseball will be forgotten.

World Series championships are not won at the end of the regular season marathon, they are won during the postseason sprint.

The Dodgers eventually will clinch the NL West title, then they will rest, catch their breath and return next week for a second season.

No matter how this story ends, the playoffs can be a different tale. Last season, remember, the Dodgers lost six of their final 11 regular-season games, a limp that propelled them to a leap, a three-game playoff sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

"We were struggling, then we got real hot," Kemp said. "That's what happens."

Worry not about that. Worry, however, about a Dodgers rotation that desperately needed an overpowering Billingsley. He probably will have one more chance to prove he has shaken his slump, but for now, they probably will now start the playoffs with Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw or Hiroki Kuroda at the uncertain top of the rotation.

While you're at it, also worry about Ramirez.

All you need to know about the most painful Dodgers struggle is the scene in the first inning Tuesday, when Ramirez came to the plate with two out and Orlando Hudson on second.

The Padres pitched to him. Not only did they pitch to him, but Cesar Ramos challenged him with fastballs.

Would this have happened last fall? No way. But this is a steroid-free, startlingly different Ramirez.

In the first 28 days of last September, Ramirez hit .370 with eight homers and 28 RBIs.

In the first 28 days of this September, Ramirez hit .250 with four homers and 13 RBIs.

He is less than half as good. And this year, he responded to the first-inning challenge with a flailing strikeout.

After which, his evening only got worse.

In the fourth inning, he led off with an impatiently knocked pop fly to third baseman Kouzmanoff.

In the sixth inning, with none out and Ethier on first base and the Dodgers having just scored their only run, he grounded into a double play.

Finally, in the ninth inning against Padres closer Heath Bell, it was no contest, Ramirez staring at strike three.

Trust me, the Dodgers will win the division any minute now. The real and growing concern here is what happens once they do.

--

Bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|