Bullpen only partially to blame for Dodgers' woes
ATLANTA -- The Dodgers came to Atlanta with a measurable amount of momentum on their side, having won four of their past five games. Manager Don Mattingly spoke hopefully of "a window of opportunity."
The Dodgers left the Peach State Sunday night after three disappointing, debilitating and ultimately depressing defeats. Their bullpen lost late leads in all three games. Much is expected of the Dodgers, but so far this season they have delivered only a 17-25 record.
An argument could be made that even in the midst of these losses at Turner Field, the Dodgers' starting rotation showed indications of developing something resembling good order. But, overall, there were more problems than solutions for the Dodgers in this series.
Beyond the bullpen breakdowns, there were defensive lapses and a floundering offense that continues to rank among the worst in the National League. In Sunday's 5-2 defeat, there was a particularly long stretch of futility with 19 consecutive batters being retired.
It was a dreary day in more ways than one for the Dodgers. There were two rain delays, totaling more than two hours. So it took longer than five hours of elapsed time for the Dodgers to accumulate three hits. This followed a two-hit total on Saturday night.
The bullpen will understandably take a lot of heat for being charged with its 13th defeat of the young season. But Mattingly's critique of his team Sunday was more rounded than that, pointing out that the Dodgers' offense was producing so little that the relievers were being left with little or no room for error.
"It goes back to us not being able to add on," Mattingly said.
The Dodgers did not score after the third inning on Sunday. In fact, the Dodgers mustered only one baserunner after the third, on a two-out ninth-inning walk.
When asked about the bullpen's shortcomings, Mattingly admitted there had been problems, but he also produced a spirited defense of his relievers.
"Obviously, we've got to get that thing in order," he said. "I think we've got guys who are capable and there are guys who this season have thrown the ball really good at times, but we just haven't been consistent. I mean, we've just got to get better. That's what teams do. You have some trouble, you try to get guys rested, get roles reset. We've been in kind of a little bit of disorder out there.
"I still know that Brandon League has great stuff and he's going to get people out. I know that Kenley [Jansen] has great stuff and he's going to get a lot of people out. I know Bellie [Ronald Belisario] has great stuff and he's going to get people out. I still think Paco [Rodriguez] is going to get people out. J.P. [Howell] is going to get people out. We can use Matt Guerrier more and he can get people out.
"So, I think the guys we have are capable of getting people out. That being said, we have to look at this as a team, too. We can't ask these guys -- if we're going to put the pressure on them that they can never give up a run, that's not team for me. We've got to be able to put an extra run on the board, and another run on the board that gives us a little bit of breathing room. It's a team thing. We can't sit here and say 'the bullpen's let us down.' You can say that, but when you put up two runs a day, it's not exactly fair to your bullpen and your pitching staff to say, 'Your pitching is letting you down late in the game.'
"I think we have to take this all as a group. It's not just our bullpen."
The Dodgers have obviously been hurt by injuries, but their expectations for better performances are not solo propositions. There are opponents who figure that the Dodgers are due for much better days, at least in terms of run production.
"They're a good club," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I know they've got a lot of players on the [disabled list], but they've still got a lot of players in that lineup that scare you. [Adrian] Gonzalez, [Andre] Ethier, [Matt] Kemp. They just beat Washington two out of three. Even though they don't have all their players, you're just waiting for them to start clicking."
In the midst of three difficult losses, some progress may have been made in the area of the starting rotation. Mattingly saw the return of Zack Greinke from a broken collarbone as a major move forward because Clayton Kershaw and Greinke will give the Dodgers a top-shelf one-two combination at the top of the rotation.
Hyun-Jin Ryu gave the Dodgers another capable start on Friday night. Chris Capuano was splendid in a second straight strong performance on Saturday night.
"I think the prospects of our rotation, with Zack and Kersh and Ryu and Cap kind of stepping in -- and we're looking for that fifth -- that looks pretty good," Mattingly said.
And Sunday, Matt Magill produced the best of his four big league starts, going five-plus innings, allowing no earned runs.
"Every time out, I feel more comfortable," Magill said.
So, there is genuine promise of improvement in the rotation. But in this series, worthwhile starting efforts were undone by lapses in the rest of the Dodgers' game.
"The negative side is we've given up some games out of the back of our 'pen," Mattingly said. "We had shoddy defense in one game, and then we gave up runs, late runs. It could happen to anybody, but when it happens late in the game, it kind of hurts you."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.