Pitching Picks Up; Hitting Still Spotty

Brad Penny had another solid start but lost his sixth consecutive decision, this one by a 3-1 margin to the Chicago Cubs, who left Dodger Stadium after splitting a four-game series and returned home with a 40-24 record, the best in baseball. Joe Torre's charges, on the other hand, have been unable to take advantage of the Diamondback's swoon and remain 30-33 and four games out of first place.

The sage that came up with "Baseball is 90% pitching", quoted by nearly everyone who sits down and finds a microphone in front of him, never watched the Dodgers. And Los Angeles fans who don't keep close tabs on other major league teams must think that you have to hold your opponents to two runs or less to earn a win.

The Dodgers' staff ERA over the last two weeks has been outstanding. Since May 23, Los Angeles boasts a 3.21 ERA (50 ER/140.1 IP), which ranks second in the National League to the Milwaukee Brewers over that time.

"So far, this has been pretty much our calling card, although if I had my druthers I'll take the fact that we can control the game somewhat with our pitching," manager Joe Torre said after the game. "To me, the only way you are going to contend is to have consistent pitching."

Although that falls short of the 90% misnomer, Torre is right. Earlier versions of the Chicago and Colorado teams attempted to batter their opponents to death, only find themselves often on the wrong end of 9-8 games because of inept pitching.

Most conclude that this Dodger team is still feeling its way around The Show and will eventually settle into a more consistent offensive mode. Their team average is ninth overall and fifth in the National League (.264) and the pitching is seventh (3.82) but in runs scored the rank 21st in a 30-team league.

In losing 12 of their past 17 games, the Dodgers have scored three runs or less 11 times. On the road, they have won twice in their past 10.

The lack of veteran leadership has been cited as one problem. Juan Pierre is a great clubhouse presence but not a vocal leader. Jeff Kent is a bit prickly and while his advice is probably true to the mark, his delivery could turn a young player off.

The good news is, inept as they have been so far, a West Division title is still comfortably within their grasp. Had the Dodgers or DBacks just split their last 14 or so games, either would have a more than comfortable lead. But they haven't and one would feel that the longer the season goes, the better the Dodgers will get.

We'll see.

Last night both teams scored in the first inning and both were in their own typical fashion. Chicago's Mark DeRosa, the second man Penny faced, smacked a home run. It was the seventh given up this season by Penny, who gave up only nine all of last season.

The Dodgers scored when Juan Pierre led off the bottom half of the first inning with a single, stole second base, went to third when Cubs catcher Geovany Soto threw the ball into center field and scored on Jeff Kent's groundout.

Also in the first inning, Derrek Lee smashed a comebacker off Penny's left ankle that hobbled him but worked five more innings.

In the fifth, DeRosa put the Cubs in front for good with an opposite-field RBI and with two out Aramis Ramirez followed with a two-out run double down the left-field line that made the game 3-1.

Penny (5-8) went six, throwing 110 pitches while giving up six hits to go along with his three runs. He gave up three walks with five strikeouts.

"I threw the ball pretty good and I'm starting to feel a lot better because my stuff's there," he said. "I'm getting more consistent every fifth day. I just have to keep the team in the game."

The big righthander hasn't won a game since May 2 at Colorado when he also gave up three runs. Over his next seven starts, Penny allowed less than four earned runs just twice.

Cubs starter Jason Marquis didn't allow an earned run over his 6.1 innings and gave up just three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

After Pierre's game opening single, Marquis retired 19 of the next 20 and threw just 71 pitches over the first six innings.

He left in the seventh with one out after allowing a single to Russell Martin and a walk to James Loney before handing the game over to the Chicago bullpen. Matt Kemp struck out and a fine play by first baseman Derek Lee on Blake DeWits's shot killed the mini-rally.

Pierre had a two-out double in the eighth and Andre Ethier walked making it look promising, but Kent grounded out to end that threat.

Overall, the Dodgers had just three runners advance past first and only Pierre made it to third.

Park followed Penny with a pair of scoreless innings and Saito, getting steady work to keep him in fighting order, struck out the side in the ninth for the second consecutive game.

Making his Dodgers debut was recently acquired shortstop Angel Berroa, who was 0-for-3, striking out all three times. The 2003 AL rookie of the year, who was with Kansas City's Triple-A affiliate in Omaha before the Dodgers traded for him, hadn't played in the majors in more than a year.

The Dodgers have a day off to regroup, then travel to San Diego for the start of a three-game series at Petco Park, where they have traditionally struggled, with the new (Keshaw) facing the old (Maddux) in the opener.

Pitching Matchups this week:

June 9 - Open date.
At San Diego
June 10 - LHP Clayton Kershaw (0-1, 4.91) vs. RHP Greg Maddux (3-4, 3.48) 
June 11 - RHP Chad Billingsley (4-6, 3.57) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (4-4, 4.06)
June 12 - RHP Hiroki Kuroda (3-5, 3.49) vs. to be announced.          
 Score by innings
Chicago	        100 020 000-3
Los Angeles	100 000 000-1

 Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Pierre lf	4  1  2  0  .281
Ethier rf	3  0  0  0  .294
Kent 2b	        4  0  0  1  .251
Martin c	4  0  1  0  .314
Loney 1b	3  0  1  0  .281
Kemp cf	        4  0  0  0  .301
DeWitt 3b	3  0  0  0  .293
Berroa ss	3  0  0  0  .000
Penny p	        1  0  0  0  .167
 Young ph	1  0  0  0  .279
 Park p	        0  0  0  0  .000
 Sweeney p	1  0  0  0  .128
 Saito p	0  0  0  0  .000
  Totals	31 1 4 1
  Chicago	33 3 8 3

 2b hits- Pierre (8). RBI- Kent (29).
SB- Pierre (23). LOB- Los Angeles 5,
Chicago 8. DP- Berroa, Kent and Loney.

 Los Angeles	in  h  r-er bb so  era
Penny (5-8)	6.0  6  3-3  3  5  5.38
Park	        2.0  1  0-0  1  0  2.09
Saito	        1.0  1  0-0  0  3  2.02
 WP- Penny. T- 2:53. Att- 49,994.
Dodger Blue Notes>/b>-- The Dodgers finally reached the end of 17 consecutive games without an off-day during which they went 5-12 and averaged 2.8 runs a game. ...The Dodgers and Cubs have played 2,024 games in the all-time series between them and after 118 years their record is 1,012-1,012. The two franchises first played each other on May 29, 1890 in Brooklyn. By the way, Brooklyn won the initial game 8-4 and pulled off a triple play. ...The organization has been impressed with how Andy LaRoche has moved around the infield at Las Vegas to make himself more valuable. "The most important thing," Torre said. "is he doesn't feel like we're making him do something that he's not comfortable with. He knows this is probably a quicker ticket to the big leagues." LaRoche was hit on his hand by a pitch a night or so ago but it was not serious and he collected two hits in three trips in the next game...James Loney extended his hitting streak to eight games. ...The Dodger pitching against the Cubs this season has been outstanding, as the staff has posted a 2.50 ERA (17 ER/61.1 IP) in the seven contests. The starters have a 2.37 ERA (13 ER/49.1 IP). The bullpen has struck out 17 Cubs in 15.0 innings, while allowing just four runs (2.40 ERA). ...On June 7, 1955, the late Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi optioned future Dodger Hall of Fame Manager and then left-handed pitcher Tommy Lasorda to the Montreal Royals of the International League. In Lasorda's place, the organization called up a 19-year old left-hander from Brooklyn named Sandy Koufax. Koufax would make his Major League debut in relief on June 24, fanning the Braves' Bobby Thomson with the bases loaded for his first big league strikeout. Tommy now points out that it took a Hall of Famer to get him off the Dodgers' active roster. 

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