LOS ANGELES -- For the second consecutive year, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 71/2 games out of first place after the first game of June.
It all worked out just fine last year, of course. But, on the first day of June 2013, Yasiel Puig was two days from his major league debut, Kenley Jansen had not yet replaced Brandon League as closer and Hanley Ramirez was on the disabled list.
Now? Puig has been here all season, and he might be the best hitter in baseball. Jansen has been the closer all season. Ramirez is healthy. And, with the highest payroll in baseball history, the Dodgers are as close to last place in the National League West as they are to first place.
"You don't want to sit here and accept anything," manager Don Mattingly said after the Dodgers' 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. "You don't want to panic. You want your team to play with a sense of urgency."
Mattingly said he sees that urgency in his team.
"I'm not in a panic," he said. "I would be in a panic if I didn't feel we had any sense of urgency."
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was asked whether he senses any lack of urgency.
"Not on my behalf," he said.
Does he sense a lack of urgency among his teammates?
"No comment," he said. "I can't speak for other people."
Mattingly and Andre Ethier got into a heated discussion in the dugout Saturday. Matt Kemp is not happy about losing his job as the center fielder. When Carl Crawford returns from the disabled list, as early as next week, the outfield could become a tinder box. The bullpen is unstable, and the Dodgers have so far declined to sign Ramirez beyond this season or move him to third base.
There was a lethargic atmosphere at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, the most organic buzz generated when word spread that the Los Angeles Kings had won in overtime and reached the Stanley Cup Final. The Dodgers played from behind all night in losing for the fourth time in five games, and yet they would qualify for a wild-card berth if the playoffs opened Monday.
Zack Greinke, who gave up four runs in six innings for his first home loss this year, said he believed the Dodgers had played better in recent weeks than they had earlier in the season.
"We haven't strung together tons of wins, but I feel we're playing really well. If we continue to, we'll compete against whoever for first place in our division," Greinke said.
"The wild card should be easily within reach."
The Dodgers fell as far as 91/2 games out of first place last season and 12 games under .500 before winning 42 of 50 games, the hottest stretch by any major league team in 61 years.
With a starting rotation of Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett and Dan Haren, Mattingly says the Dodgers have the pitching to get hot in a hurry.
"When you've got that, you've got a chance to get on a roll," Mattingly said. "We can go rattle a bunch of games off, not necessarily 42 of 50. But I know we're capable of going out and winning game after game, series after series, because of this pitching."
How much comfort should the Dodgers take in their 42-8 run last season? Not too much, says Gonzalez.
"It's a different year," he said. "We can't focus on the past. We've just got to focus on how we get better this year."
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