Dodgers aren't panicking about NL West race
Club remains confident after dropping three of four against rival Giants
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw watched a lead disappear with an 0-2 curveball that sailed over the wall in left field at Dodger Stadium. That happens about as often as Kenley Jansen yields three runs while getting one out.
It was that kind of Sunday for the Dodgers, who did some exciting things but were left with a 7-4 loss in 10 innings that has the Giants on top of the National League West race with a 24-14 record, with the Rockies next in pursuit at 23-17.
If the Giants, World Series champions in 2010 and '12, are starting to get that winning feeling in another even-numbered year, it doesn't necessarily follow that their rivals to the south are down on themselves.
Quite the contrary, it turns out. In third place at 20-19 after dropping three of four to San Francisco, the Dodgers give no appearance of feeling like a run-of-the-mill third-place club six weeks into the season.
"We've been playing good, playing hard -- a lot of good stuff is happening," Jansen said. "It's not how you start. It's how you finish."
The closer absorbed the loss with a three-run 10th inning that quickly went awry -- walk, single, wild pitch, intentional walk, single -- after Hanley Ramirez's two-run thunderbolt with two down in the ninth off Giants closer Sergio Romo forced extra innings.
"It's a long season," Jansen said. "We're going to be successful, no matter what it looks like now. We just haven't put it all together yet. We're all confident we will."
Kershaw, the sport's very best pitcher, has had a weird start to this season. It's far from normal to open in Australia, go to the disabled list and make your home debut on May 11.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner was leading, 2-1, through six innings, Yasiel Puig having homered against Tim Hudson ahead of a Ramirez double and Adrian Gonzalez's RBI single for the lead in the sixth.
That's when Brandon Hicks, after the second of three Pablo Sandoval hits, launched the two-run shot -- his seventh homer in 95 at-bats -- on a curve Kershaw ordinarily buries.
"It's frustrating," Kershaw said. "The team played so well. We battled all day. I thought we played good baseball all around. Guys were making plays, getting big hits. For me to give it up in that at-bat -- after the team played so well -- is a frustrating thing.
"For me, personally, I've got to shut it down there."
Kershaw didn't expect to have three starts in the books on May 11 any more than San Francisco reliever Jean Machi expected to be 5-0. Machi, whose ERA is 0.49 in 19 outings, got the last three outs for his first save with Romo moving to 3-0 despite blowing his first save in 13 chances.
The Giants have a history of getting tied in tight knots by Kershaw, who is 11-5 with a 1.48 career ERA against San Francisco in 22 starts.
At Dodger Stadium, against all comers, Kershaw has been about as close to invincible as it gets. He's 42-23 with a 2.22 ERA in 640 innings, allowing just 37 home runs.
The Giants came out aggressively, swinging early in counts, on the theory it's never a good idea to get behind against a great pitcher. They took the lead when Angel Pagan singled on a 1-0 fastball, Hunter Pence singled on a 2-1 breaking ball and Sandoval laced a first-pitch fastball for an RBI double.
"The thing a lot of teams try to do is attack early," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw. "Either it works or it gets [Kershaw] deep in the game with a low pitch count. He got that breaking ball up [to Hicks], but he was good."
Kershaw had nine strikeouts with no walks, giving him a 20-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in his 20 2/3 innings and a 1.74 ERA.
Andre Ethier took advantage of a start in left to drill a pair of doubles and a single. Puig unloaded a first-pitch homer off Hudson, his sixth, and he has 25 RBIs -- two fewer than Gonzalez -- with his .318 batting average, .401 on-base percentage and .535 slugging mark.
Before Ramirez's line-drive homer tied it, Dee Gordon slashed a double. The son of Flash is batting .331 with more steals (24 in only 27 attempts) than 17 Major League teams.
"You hate to say it's a matter of time," Kershaw said. "We don't have time. We have to play with a sense of urgency."
And yet, these Dodgers are in better shape than last year's outfit at the same point in the season. That club was 17-22, in last place, 5 1/2 games off the pace. The Giants were 23-15 after 38 games, leading the division.
"I've been through this before," said Jansen, who has been roughed up for nine earned runs in 17 2/3 innings for a 4.58 ERA. "I don't think about it. I can't change it. What happened today is over. I've got to come back [Monday] against Miami and be better."
Jansen knows about finishing strong. He gave up four earned runs after the All-Star break last year in 30 1/3 innings, a 1.19 ERA. Jansen was as dominant a closer as the game had to offer.
Mattingly isn't happy with any of the current numbers, and it shows. But he's been around too long to overreact in May.
"We're OK," he said. "We know we can play. We've just got to get it together."
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.