Struggling Dodgers Now Battle Giants

The Dodgers limped out of town after an 8-1 loss to Atlanta and a seven game home stand that went 2-5. They open tonight in San Francisco, who lost to Cincinnati, The Giants and the Rockies trail Los Angeles by five games in the loss column. However, Dodgers fans who think the sky is falling should note that only the Yankees have a bigger lead (6.5 games over Boston).

In an every-day, run-of-the-mill game, Eric Stults would have done an adequate job: five innings, three earned runs. But with the offense suddenly finding it hard to stay on an even keel -- 17 runs one day, one the next -- the lefthanders work performance nothing but earn him a loss.

This game the Dodgers scored first run on a fluke. Trailing 3-0 in the fourth, Andre Ethier single to right and Manny Ramirez, who fanned in the first inning and saw his average slide to a pedestrian .300, checked his swing and accidentally hit the ball.

It looped over the first baseman's head and dropped into right field just feet behind the infield dirt for a tainted double. With visions of a rally dancing the the fans head, Casey Blake knocked in the first run with a sac fly, Ramirez taking third.

Then Matt Kemp popped to short left field and the Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar caught the ball easily. Ramirez did his impression of Juan Pierre and scampered toward the plate but the ball arrived in plenty of time to complete the double play and kill the only rally the Dodgers could manage until the ninth inning when they were behind 8-1.

Veteran Javier Vasquez had little trouble muffling the Dodgers' bats. He allowed five hits and a single run over eight innings. He didn't allow more than a single baserunner in any inning, except the fourth, and won his 10th game.

Jeff Weaver replaced Stults, who left for a pinch-hitter in the fifth, and held the Braves hitless and scoreless over three perfect innings. Ramon Troncoso and Guillermo Mota made their almost daily journey out of the bullpen and were battered in the ninth inning for five hits and five runs that ended any Dodgers thought of a dramatic comeback.

Los Angeles did score another run in the last of the ninth. It took them three singles and a hit-batsman to dent the scoreboard again and the run actually came when Matt Kemp hit into a double play.

Ramirez, buoyed by the accidental double, singled in each of his two final plate appearances. He entered the game 0-for-7 in the two previous games.

Manager Joe Torre held a team meeting behind the closed doors of the Dodgers' clubhouse after the game. "What I try to do is talk about perspective," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Sometimes you're involved in the competition, and you sort of lose perspective of where you are because you're so much buried in it."

Stults arrived Sunday morning from Albuquerque and started Sunday afternoon. To make room for him on the roster, Tony Abreu was send back to New Mexico, along with his .342 average, after going 1-for-3 in his only appearance during his stay.

The Dodgers hope to end their slide tonight in San Francisco, a team they haven't met since May 10.

"The Giants are the club right behind us, and these are the people we have to beat to win our division. So it's important, no question," Torre said. "They're a real good team, and we knew that from the get-go because of their starting pitching. I am looking forward to it, but it's more about us than the Giants. We've been a little erratic as far as scoring runs, and we've had some good outings and not-so good outings from our pitchers.

"I thought Stultsie, for the S.O.S. we sent out to get him here, I thought he held us in. Considering he pitched the other day, I thought he did OK.

"It's been frustrating here the last couple of days because we've had opportunities to win games and didn't do it," Torre said. "But as the mental state of this club, we're fine. I'm the only one that panics around here, trust me."

Torre said the he wasn't sure what was in store in the near future for Stults or the rest of the Dodgers' pitching staff. A lot of it depends on whether or not Chad Billingsley's strained left hamstring will heal in time to allow him to pitch on Wednesday. The Dodgers will have a better idea about Billingsley's availability today.

The Dodgers finished a 30-game stretch played outside the National League West splitting the games 15-15.

The Dodgers are currently 30-12 in the West Division, and only 16-12 record against the NL East and a 12-12 mark against the NL Central.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 4.44 ERA) gets the job of changing he momentum, although the offense but rebound or anything he does will be unimportant. ?

The Dodgers face LHP Jonathan Sanchez (5-9, 4.49 ERA). Sanchez is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers this season and 0-2, 5.19 in five career outings.

  Score by Innings
Atlanta	        011 100 005-8
Los Angeles	000 100 001-2

  Los Angeles	ab r  h  bi  ave
Furcal ss	3  0  0  0  .263
Ethier rf	4  1  1  0  .272
Ramirez f	4  1  3  0  .310
Blake 3b	2  0  1  1  .292
Kemp cf        	4  0  0  0  .315
Martin c	3  0  1  0  .271
Hudson 2b	4  0  2  0  .294
Loretta 1b	4  0  0  0  .230
Stults p	1  0  0  0  .067
 Pierre ph 	1  0  0  0  .314
 Weaver p	0  0  0  0  .300
 Loney ph	1  0  0  0  .282
 Troncoso p	0  0  0  0  .000
 Mota p	        0  0  0  0  .500
  Totals  	31  2  8  1
  Atlanta	34  8 10  7

  2B- Ramirez (17), Hudson (29).
RBI- Blake (65). LOB- Los Angeles 6,
Atlanta 4. DP- Furcal and Loretta.

  Los Angeles	 in  h r-er bb so  era
Stults (4-3)	5.0  5  3-3  1  3  4.86
Weaver	        3.0  0  0-0  0  2  3.90
Troncoso 	0.1  3  4-4  1  0  2.76
Mota        	0.2  2  1-1  0  0  3.42
  WO- Stults. HBP- Martin, by Stults.
T- 2:53. Att- 45,438.
Checking out Cuba Prospects
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Dodgers scouting director Logan White was in the Dominican Republic on Friday to get a look at Cuban defectors Yasser Gomez, an outfielder, and right-handers Yadel Marti and Juan Yasser Serrano, who were recently declared free agents.

Marti, 30, who twice led Cuba's Serie Nacional in winning percentage and made the all-tournament team in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006 after throwing 12.1 scoreless innings, is considered the top prospect of the three. White declined to discuss the showcase, but other scouts who were in attendance said Marti, who defected in December, was unimpressive, throwing 85-89 mph before pulling a groin.

White said the Dodgers also plan to check out left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who is in Spain after defecting from the Cuban national team in July. Chapman, 21, is a two-time Cuban league strikeout champion whose fastball was clocked at 102 mph during the second WBC last spring.