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Dodgers, Angels looking to solve issues, climb back into race

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Pillow fights never looked so dangerous, by comparison. Here they were, two clubs this week looking to U-turn things from Free Falling back into something resembling a respectable Freeway Series.

Two months in, the $230 million Dodgers still can't get out of their own way. Thursday, it was Matt Kemp going onto the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Bright side: He will be physically unable to strand any more runners at least for the next two weeks.

The Angels? Things are beginning to come together. They did win eight in a row, until losing two in Dodger Stadium to start the week.

Sure, they feasted on the puny Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals but, hey. A win is a win. And as the emaciated Rally Monkey can tell you, they are way more difficult to come by than anybody under the Halo ever dreamed.

Who's got the better chance to get back into the race here?

The Dodgers, who are down Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, catcher A.J. Ellis (for a day or two, and possibly longer) and can't find enough Super Glue to keep things in one piece?

Or the Angels, who will go to a six-man rotation for the next week and will continue attempting to carry Josh Hamilton forward?

With Andre Ethier called into duty as the emergency center fielder, the Dodgers spent part of Thursday chalk-talking their way through their outfield scenarios. Anthony Gwynn, who plays a darned good defense, is expected to be summoned from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Others are lobbying for prospects Yasiel Puig, whose bat rocked the Cactus League this spring, or Joc Pederson, from Double-A Chattanooga.

Mattingly explained that the club needs a "true center fielder" -- which is not Puig (though he did start there Thursday night for Chattanooga) -- and insinuated that the Dodgers are worried about rushing Pederson too quickly.

Someone mentioned that Mattingly might want to argue hard for a guy like Puig and live for today, and the manager, grinning, finished the sentence for the fellow: "Because I might not be here tomorrow."

There is not that same minute-to-minute Death Watch over Mattingly that enveloped him last week, not since Dodgers president Stan Kasten promised folks on Friday that the club is not yet prepared to make a move. But it's not like Mattingly suddenly got tenure. So gallows humor remains in play.

Really, the answer to the above question -- do the Dodgers or Angels climb back into a race first -- is a tough call.

It should be the Angels, because any team with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton should be unstoppable.

But it just might be the Dodgers who have a better chance at resurrection because Texas and Oakland don't live in the NL West.

Of course, the answer also still could be:

C) Neither.

"The team we envisioned certainly had some guys being more productive, and we think they will be," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Jered Weaver's return Wednesday was a colossal boost, the rotation has been better and the bullpen no longer is a sieve.

"I think we're better set up to hold leads," Scioscia said. "We're just not quite to where we can say we're firing on all cylinders. We still are a ways away from totality, from some guys getting back on the roster and getting back into their games."

The loose plan is for center fielder Peter Bourjos to return from his hamstring injury sometime around June 10. Closer-in-waiting Ryan Madson, who knows? Not close.

The Dodgers are benefiting from the fact that NL West leader Arizona has the second-worst mark of any of the six division leaders, trailing only the Tigers. That's helped keep the Dodgers on oxygen.

But as they watched Trout, all it did was remind them of the time they, too, once had a dynamic, young center fielder.

Now, it's more difficult to tell which was in more dire need of treatment, Kemp's strained hamstring or his strained batting line: .251, two homers, 17 RBI and an absolutely abysmal .154 batting average with runners in scoring position over 50 games.

"It ain't bad luck," Kemp said of landing on the 15-day disabled list. "It's life. Things happen. You've got to deal with it."

This time, it is his right hamstring. Last season, he twice needed the DL for his left hamstring.

"It's disappointing," Kemp said. "I love playing baseball. I hate to be hurt. … I'm used to playing 162 games. Now, this is two years of being hurt. It's kind of frustrating."

Kemp's non-production has crippled the Dodgers far more than anything Mattingly has or hasn't done. That's far from the only issue with these Dodgers, but it is easily the most important one.

Same as Hamilton's .219, .283 on-base percentage and 57 strikeouts in 223 plate appearances. Hamilton ranks seventh in the AL in whiffs (teammate Mark Trumbo is fifth with 61).

"He usually doesn't miss pitches with the frequency we've seen him miss this year," Scioscia said. "Especially with runners in scoring position."

In those situations, Hamilton has a whopping 12 strikeouts in 37 at-bats and is hitting .108.

Kemp, meantime, is tied for fourth in the NL with 60 strikeouts. He has also fanned 15 times in his past seven starts.

Hanley Ramirez thinks Kemp is doing just swell, because ol' Hanley was at .198 last May 4 for the Marlins.

Those who have been paying attention to the Dodgers for longer than the past couple of months, though, know better.

Mattingly conceded that maybe disappearing for two weeks could wind up helping Kemp. Certainly, he'll be where he can't hear the boos that have been drowning him at home lately.

"It's hard to say you don't play and you'll be better," Mattingly said. "But at times … it could be."

It's an unforgiving game, and two months in, anybody who earns a paycheck playing hardball in Los Angeles (or its suburbs) can tell you that with authority.

"This is not AAU or YMCA," Dodgers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "This is the big leagues. Things are going to be said. Guys are going to get booed.

"Winning cures a lot of things."

After splitting their four games this week, baseball's two most disappointing teams (this side of Toronto, at least) are still searching hard for that cure.

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