SAN FRANCISCO -- The Dodgers are spinning their wheels in soft sand, running out of time. It is no mystery why. The engine isn't working.
A 4-0 loss to the Giants' Barry Zito, another tantalizing, soft-serve southpaw, on Sunday night left the Dodgers 5 1/2 games behind San Francisco in the National League West and 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the chase for the second NL postseason Wild Card.
Naturally, there wasn't a lot of chatter in the visitors' clubhouse at AT&T Park. There's not much to talk about after losing for the fifth time in the past six games to the outfit you're chasing.
"It's not like we're backing down," said Shane Victorino, the center fielder until Matt Kemp makes it back, hopefully Tuesday in Arizona, with a relatively healthy shoulder. "We've got a chance to play these guys again. Hopefully, the division is on the line."
If that final series of the season, Oct. 1-3 at Dodger Stadium, is to have meaning, manager Don Mattingly knows some answers from a stagnant offense will have to surface quickly -- and emphatically.
"It's about execution," said Mark Ellis, who opened the Sunday evening show with a double against Zito but advanced no farther. "They were able to execute a little better than us. We've got to find ways to get runs across."
The return to form of Kemp, who has struggled since crashing into a wall in Colorado on Aug. 28, would be a godsend. But the big man wasn't making any bold forecasts as he dressed for the trip to Phoenix.
"We'll see how it goes [on Tuesday]," Kemp said. "I really won't know until I see how I feel. Obviously, I want to get back out there when I'm ready."
Kemp is close with Torii Hunter, whose talent-laden Angels, down Interstate 5, have caught fire. When it was pointed out that there are distinct parallels between the two Southern California clubs in terms of potential and expectations, and that perhaps the Dodgers can follow the Angels' lead, Kemp shrugged.
"I'm not really paying much attention to them," he said. "I'm more concerned with us, what we're doing. Do I see similarities? They're a good team, and we're a good team. That's about it."
This was supposed to be Clayton Kershaw's turn in the rotation, but hip inflammation forced him to the dugout -- against his will. Kershaw wanted to test the hip, but accepted the orders of the manager and advice of the training staff.
Mattingly handed the ball to Joe Blanton, who gave up two in the first inning on Hunter Pence's double and single runs in the fifth and sixth. Buster Posey unloaded his 20th homer in the sixth.
"Is it frustrating to know your No. 1 guy wasn't able to go? Of course," Victorino said."It's a little deflating, but you can't sit there and worry about it.
"There's nothing you can do about these things. Our best player [Kemp] is hurt, unfortunately. You can't let these things get to you. You want to run your best out there, but you have to keep plugging along."
The Dodgers weren't rushing to study the box score after this latest disappointment. Ellis' leadoff double was their lone extra-base hit. They were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, almost as bad as the 0-for-10 in Friday night's series opener.
"I don't sit here and worry about these things," said Victorino, hitless with a walk in four at-bats in the No. 2 spot between Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez. "You've got to keep moving forward. Do I want to get a base hit every single time? Of course. But it's just not happening.
"Everybody wants to know what's going on, but I don't sit here and analyze every day. We're capable of scoring five to 10 runs a game. We're capable of being one of the contending teams. I've been in worse positions than this and made the playoffs."
Just 12 months ago, the Cardinals were in a much deeper hole than the Dodgers are in at this point. We all know what they did. St. Louis was 74-67, the exact same record the Dodgers own today, and trailing Atlanta by 10 1/2 games on Sept. 5, 2011. Four days later, they were 7 1/2 games removed from a playoff spot.
The Redbirds took flight and never looked back. If Tony La Russa's last St. Louis club is to serve as their template, the Dodgers need to make some noise and start scoring runs -- in bunches.
"These guys will hit," Mattingly said. "That's not the question. It's a matter of will we do it right now?
"We've played from behind a lot lately. We should have the type of offense that can put up multiple-run innings. We're really capable of putting a big inning on you. We haven't done that, but we're capable.
"We've gotten enough pitching to win a bunch of games. We haven't scored."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com.