Los Angeles Dodgers head east while going south

It’s a good thing the Los Angeles Lakers effort to obtain center Dwight Howard is dominating the headlines. The news is allowing the Dodgers to sneak out of town after a home stand in which they stunk up Los Angeles worse than the smog.

Matt Kemp’s 12th inning “walk off” home run versus the Phillies Wednesday afternoon was one of the few highlights Dodgers fans witnessed this week.

The Dodgers dropped four of six games in their first week of post-All Star break play.  They held a half-game lead in the NL West entering the break and now find themselves 2.5 games behind the first-place Giants.  The reward for this tailspin is a  ten game road trip that will pretty much see the Dodgers either rise like the Dark Knight or become a bunch of  Jokers.

The Dodgers head to New York for a weekend series versus the tough Mets, then to St. Louis, a place where they have only won six of their last seventeen, for four games and wrap up the trip in San Francisco for three more.  All of those teams are over .500 whereas the Dodgers couldn’t muster much against two teams who are a combined 26 games below .500.

Losing to the NL East cellar dwelling Phillies and woeful Padres at home is one thing.  It was the way they lost that may have fans wondering if the Dodgers are the 2012 version of the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates were four games over .500 at the All-Star break but went 25-47 the rest of the way.

The Dodgers, currently 49-44, saw their saw strengths become weaknesses. The normally reliable bullpen faltered and relievers ended up taking three of the losses.  Even in Wednesday’s 12 inning, 5-3 victory over the Phillies, reliever Javy Guerra gave up two tenth inning runs forcing the Dodgers to mount a comeback and tie the game in the bottom half of the inning.  In Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Padres, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen blew a save without throwing a pitch; per se. Jansen got lazy and turned his back on Padres runner Everth Cabrera, who was on third. Cabrera promptly stole home to tie the game. The winning run scored on Jansen’s subsequent throwing error.  Although Dodgers GM Ned Colletti assured me Ronald Belisario’s delay in returning from his All-Star break “vacation” in his native Venezuela is not related to Belisario’s previously documented drug issues, the late inning reliever hasn’t quite been the same since the plane landed in L.A.  He has given up three runs in his last 2.2 innings.

The defense also showed signs of a mental breakdown.  In Sunday’s 7-2 loss to the Padres, the Dodgers made five errors which led to six unearned runs.  Considering the Dodgers offense has scored more than three runs in only two of their previous nine games, a porous defense is something the Dodgers can ill afford to add.

On the positive side, the starting pitching has been doing well.  No Dodger starter gave up more than three earned runs in any of the six games.  An unexpected pleasure this week was the performance of rookie starting pitcher Stephen Fife. Fife was called up from Triple A for an “emergency” start when Chad Billingsley went on the DL with a bad elbow.  Fife  did a great job Tuesday night pitching six innings and giving up just one run in a Dodgers 3-2 loss to Philadelphia.

Matt Kemp returned to the line-up last Friday and appears to be returning to form.  He had eight hits in the five games he played.  He hit the game winning, “walk-off” homer in the bottom of the 12th inning Wednesday.

“It felt good to help my team win,” said Kemp.  “It had been a while since I’ve played and it’s always exciting to do that. It was a good time to do that at that moment.  Hopefully we take this momentum into the East Coast and get this going again.”

Friday night’s opener in the Big Apple pits Aaron Harang (6-5) going against the Mets Johan Santana (6-6).  Santana shut out the Dodgers over 8 innings back on June 30th.  He is 4-0 versus the Dodgers since joining the Mets in 2008. Harang gave up four runs in the Dodgers 9-0 loss to the Mets at Dodger Stadium back on June 29th.

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