CINCINNATI — The Dodgers began the weekend with the second-largest division lead in baseball. Their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds, started Friday with a seven-game advantage in the race for the National League's final wild-card playoff berth.
But anyone looking to bill the series as a playoff preview isn't getting any help from Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, who said he won't look ahead to the postseason "until we're drinking champagne."
Mattingly can read a schedule without the help of champagne, though, and the schedule shows the Dodgers play just one more team with a winning record after they leave Cincinnati. So while the weekend series may not be a playoff preview, it certainly qualifies as a playoff warmup.
And it was one that got off to a bad start for the Dodgers, who lost both a game and a starting pitcher in falling to the Reds, 3-2.
"It's a big series," Mattingly said. "I was interested in seeing how we play. We're in the hunt, they're in the hunt."
In addition to hunting, though, the Dodgers are hurting. Not only have they lost consecutive games for the first time in two weeks, they've also lost starting pitchers on consecutive game days, with Chris Capuano hobbling to the sideline in the second inning Friday to join Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was supposed to start the game but was scratched because of a bad back.
Capuano's problem is a recurring groin strain, which has bothered him for five seasons. It returned at an inopportune time with Capuano, coming off his best start since the All-Star break, leading 2-0 on Hanley Ramirez's first-inning homer.
"I felt great the last couple of games. So it's definitely frustrating," said Capuano, who is likely to miss another start. "It's one of those things you can't throw through. Especially without risking hurting your arm."
Pitchers aren't the only Dodgers banged up, either. Yasiel Puig, who didn't start the previous two games, played despite a sore right knee and Ramirez came out of the trainer's room Friday with ice packs wrapped around both shoulders and another on his right forearm.
"Every one of these guys has something going on right now," said Mattingly, who called September "the hardest time of the year to win games."
It didn't look as if that would be the case the way Friday's game started, with Puig beating out an infield single and Ramirez lining a 432-foot shot into the upper deck in left field to give Capuano a 2-0 lead four batters into the game.
But the Reds halved the lead in the fourth when Joey Votto singled and eventually scored on a double play, then went ahead an inning later when Votto dropped a two-out, two-run homer into the first row of the left-field bleachers.
That proved too much for the Dodgers, who managed only three hits after the first inning. Aroldis Chapman ended the game with a flourish, striking out Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez on 13 pitches in the ninth.
"We were winning these games. We were winning 2-1 and 1-0. We were getting great pitching," Mattingly said. "We got it again tonight, we just didn't get enough. You get two [early runs], you've got to be able to tack on."
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