The Los Angeles Dodgers’ lead atop the NL West is down to the slimmest possible margin.
The Dodgers try to maintain their tenuous hold on first place Friday night when they continue a four-game series against the surging New York Mets at Shea Stadium.
Los Angeles (74-66) fell 7-0 on Thursday for its fourth loss in five games. Its lead over second-place San Diego was cut to one-half game.
The Dodgers suffered their second shutout defeat in three games and have scored just five runs in the first four contests of a 10-game road trip. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games away from Los Angeles.
“It’s been a team struggle, but we’ll get out of this,” manager Grady Little said. “We’ve been rather streaky. I don’t have the answers.”
First baseman Nomar Garciaparra is 1-for-10, left fielder Andre Ethier is 1-for-11 and third baseman Julio Lugo is 1-for-12 on the road trip. Los Angeles has drawn only six walks and struck out 24 times over the last four games.
One key to winning Friday would be to prevent another first-inning outburst from New York (87-52). The Mets have scored a major league-high 122 runs in the first inning—also a franchise record—after taking a 2-0 lead in the opening frame on Thursday.
The Mets, owners of baseball’s best record, have won 16 of 18 games to cut their magic number to seven for their first NL East crown since 1988. New York has also won seven straight home games against NL West opponents.
Jose Reyes’ three-run inside-the-park home run capped Thursday’s scoring in the sixth inning. Reyes’ drive bounced halfway up the wall past Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and the major league leader in triples sped around the bases for his 18th homer of the year.
“When it hit the wall, (Reyes) was already at second base,” Kemp said. “Even if Ethier comes up with the ball cleanly, he still has home easily.”
The Dodgers will give Hong Chih-Kuo (0-4, 5.34 ERA) his first career start Friday. Kuo has made 23 appearances out of the bullpen for Los Angeles, including two since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on Aug. 30.
The left-hander was switched to the rotation July 16 with Las Vegas and went 3-3 with a 2.61 ERA in nine starts. He pitched two innings of relief in Sunday’s 12-5 loss to Colorado, allowing one run and two hits.
“He was very impressive in his outing (Sunday), and he’s been pitching very well since he started starting in (Las Vegas),” Little said earlier this week. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t stick him in there for a time or two by the end of the season.”
John Maine (5-3, 3.44) looks to run his unbeaten string to nine straight starts for New York. He was impressive on Saturday, when he retired his first 12 batters and allowed two runs and two hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 4-2 victory at Houston.
The right-hander has allowed nine runs over his last 8 1-3 innings at home, though, after a scoreless streak of 25 innings at Shea. Maine has never faced the Dodgers.