The Dodgers struggles continued as they dropped two of three games to the Washington Nationals to start a 9-game road trip. The Dodgers’ offense showed what it was capable of on Wednesday night in the second game of a double-header including a dramatic 9th inning home run from Matt Kemp. However, the offense was in it its usual stagnant form for the other two games, getting shutdown by Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, who each allowed one run.

INFIELDERS: B-

Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez hit safely in every game of the series, Luis Cruz continued to swing a hot bat, and Hanley Ramirez accounted for nearly half of the Dodgers run-production in the first two games.

Ellis went 3-for-13 with a solo home run and a pair of runs scored in the series. Ellis currently has a six-game hit streak, as well.

Gonzalez went 4-for-12 with a double and a run scored in the series, and in a rare feat, even stole his second base of the year. However, Adrian didn’t drive in any runs, and that’s what he’s here to do. Gonzalez will need to swing the bat with more authority if the Dodgers are going to make any noise to finish the season.

Luis Cruz continued to hit the ball into the gap, going 4-for-12 with three doubles in the series, however, like Gonzalez, Cruz did not produce any runs. Hanley Ramirez was on fire for the first two games, before going 0-for-3 in Thursday’s 4-1 loss. Hanley went 3-for-13 driving in four runs in the series, the lone run in Wednesday’s opening 3-1 loss, and three runs in Wednesday night’s 7-6 thriller.

The tough times continued for A.J. Ellis who went 0-for-6 in the series, Matt Treanor filled in in the second game of the double-header going 2-for-4 with a run scored.

OUTFIELDERS: C

Matt Kemp showed signs of life, and Andre Ethier and Shane Victorino each made some noise, but not enough to win the series for the Dodgers.

Kemp hit safely in all three games of the series, his longest hit streak since August 21-27. Kemp went 4-for-12 in the series including the go-ahead solo home run on an 0-2 count off of Tyler Clippard in the 9th inning on Wednesday night. The Dodgers had jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead and appeared to have the game in hand in the 8th inning, but the Nationals mounted an improbable rally to tie the game. Kemp had driven the ball deep to left off of Clippard in the day-game and he didn’t miss the second time around. The run would hold up and the Dodgers would take the only game of the series 7-6.

The L.A. Times’ Dylan Hernandez reported that Josh Beckett had told Kemp the team would have to ride him into the playoffs, to which Kemp replied “That’s fine with me.” The Dodgers will need more games like that from Kemp to have any chance at the postseason.

Andre Ethier went 3-for-13 with a RBI and a run scored in the series, cooling off from the St. Louis series.

Shane Victorino went only 1-for-11 in the series, however he stole two bases in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss, and doubled and scored a run in the second game of the double-header. The Dodgers will need more of a spark from Victorino down the stretch.

STARTING PITCHING: C-

Josh Beckett continued to settle in since coming over from the Boston Red Sox, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano struggled, but kept the Dodgers in the game.

Beckett went 7.1 innings Wednesday night, giving up three runs, while striking out two with no walks. Wednesday marked the first time Beckett had pitched into the 8th inning since June 6! Beckett now has a 3.45 ERA in five starts with the Dodgers including 26 K and only 9 BB in 31.1 innings pitched. However, he has been victimized by a lack of run support and has gone only 1-2 as a Dodger.

Aaron Harang was laboring Wednesday afternoon. He gave up only two earned runs but lasted only 4.1 innings, throwing 92 pitches in the process. The Dodgers offense could not overcome a 2-1 deficit and Harang was tagged with his 10th loss of the year.

Chris Capuano did not fare much better, giving up four runs (three earned) in only five innings of work. Although Capuano kept the ball in the park, the fly balls got to him and Capuano exited to a 4-1 deficit. Again, more than the Dodgers offense could overcome. With the games as tight as they are down the stretch, the Dodgers will need more performances like Beckett’s and fewer like Harang’s.

BULLPEN: B-

Most of the damage was done against the Dodgers starting pitchers in the series, and the Dodgers bullpen was extremely effective in those games keeping the Dodgers in it. However, they experienced a total meltdown in Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory, that if not for Matt Kemp‘s lat home run, might have cost the Dodgers the game.

Shawn Tolleson induced an inning-ending double play when he came in in relief of Aaron Harang Wednesday afternoon. However, he got tagged for a run in the sixth inning, and got bailed out by Paco Rodriguez, who got fellow rookie Bryce Harper to ground out to end the

inning. Matt Guerrier and Jamey Wright each pitched a scoreless inning a piece to end the game. After Beckett pitched into the 8th inning on Wednesday night, Randy Choate entered the game with a man on first and one out. Choate would give up back-to-back singles to Mark DeRosa and Harper, and the what was once a 6-0 Dodgers lead was a 6-4 lead. Beckett had given up home runs to Michael Morse and Steve Lombardozzi earlier in the inning.

Ronald Belisario would come in to clean up the mess, but would give up a bases loaded single to Morse (that’s right, the Nationals batted around) to tie the game at 6. Belisario would get Lombardozzi to ground out to end the inning. However, thanks to Matt Kemp, Belisario picked up his 7th win of the year.

Brandon League pitched a perfect 9th for his 3rd save with the Dodgers. The bullpen rebounded nicely Thursday. Five Dodger relievers (Wright, Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen, Choate, Tolleson) actually came in to the game and shut down the Nationals for four innings, allowing only two base runners.

However, already down 4-1, the performance didn’t stand for much.

The Dodgers will head to Cincinnati to take on the NL Central Division Champion Reds. The Reds clinched their second division title in three years on Thursday night, sweeping a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs. Cincinnati has won seven of their last nine games and are the only team in MLB with 90 wins along with the Nationals, who clinched their first ever NL East crown with their victory over the Dodgers.

This will be the first time the franchise has gone to the playoffs since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos. Only 12 games remain in the regular season for the Dodgers. They have fallen three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and have been overtaken by the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers in the standings. The Dodgers will need to finish the season on a tear to have any hope of making the playoffs.

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