ST. LOUIS -- Only days ago there was a five-game winning streak, only hours ago the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, but now that the Dodgers are heading into a showdown with the Giants, they've lost their mojo again.
Chris Capuano had his worst start of the season and Matt Kemp his worst series as the Dodgers blew a lead for the third consecutive day en route to a 7-4 loss to the defending World Series champion Cardinals on Thursday afternoon.
"Just one of those series," said Matt Kemp, who went 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts as Los Angeles' losing streak reached three. "I gave away a lot of at-bats swinging at bad pitches. I've got to get pitches back over the plate, got to swing at strikes. I didn't show up this series. Maybe I'm saving it for San Francisco.
"We're still in a good spot. We've got Hanley now and whoever else may come. We're right there with a big series coming up. We win those games and we're right back in this thing."
The Dodgers trail the Giants by three games and open a series there Friday night, but the momentum manager Don Mattingly hoped they would bring back to California has been halted.
"What's disappointing is that we played well and won the first game, were winning 2-0 with [Clayton] Kershaw on the mound in the second game and two innings later we're down and the game got away and it broke our momentum," Mattingly said.
"Last night was back-and-forth, a good game, but today we got a lead and gave it right back. It's a disappointing series."
Mattingly resisted dumping on Kemp, saying the Cardinals present a difficult matchup for him.
"There are other guys in the lineup," Mattingly said. "I like our chances better when he's 8-for-16 with five home runs, but he runs into pitchers he doesn't matchup well."
Now that the Dodgers have Ramirez to protect Andre Ethier in the lineup, they continue their search for somebody to protect Ramirez. After a two-hit debut Wednesday night, he went 1-for-2 with two walks, a run scored, a stolen base and a double-play grounder. He was walked three times in his final five at-bats by the Cards.
He again batted fifth, played third base and contributed to a four-run fourth inning with an infield single off the foot of Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook. James Loney went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly batting sixth Wednesday while Juan Rivera went 1-for-4 with an RBI single batting sixth Thursday.
Playing in draining heat and humidity that only partially broke Thursday, the Dodgers had only one hit in the final three innings Tuesday, one hit in the final five innings Wednesday and two hits in the final four innings Thursday.
"I'm not sure why," said Mattingly. "You can lay it on the heat, but I'm not so sure. They did a good job pitching us."
The Dodgers had their biggest winner on the mound in Capuano, but after they gave him a 4-2 lead with a four-run fifth, he gave it back to the Cardinals in a four-run bottom half of the frame. He was charged with six runs in 4 1/3 innings and 11 of St. Louis' 18 hits.
"We grabbed the momentum and we needed to throw a zero," said Mattingly. "We weren't able to stop them. [Capuano] didn't seem to be as aggressive."
Three of the 18 hits were by David Freese, who drove in two runs and scored twice. Freese actually left in the sixth inning with leg cramps from running around the bases all game.
"You can't ask for anything more than that when they put up four and we come right back and answer," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Just tough at-bats all the way down the lineup. That sort of thing is hard for an opposing team. Once they took the lead, then watch it completely disappear ... it's hard to change that momentum."
In one stretch Capuano allowed nine of 12 batters to reach base, although most of the hits were bouncers or flares and only one went for extra bases.
"I'm not sure what happened," said Capuano. "Even in the fourth, I was making pitches and the ball seemed to find holes, but I felt good. After we got the lead in the fifth, I told myself this is a big inning and tried to shut them down. For whatever reason, I got sloppy with my location and left a few balls over the middle and they were scrappy.
"A lot of times, one inning you need bad. For me, it was the fifth. I needed them to hit a ball at somebody, and for me that didn't happen. I just kind of lost my feel a little bit and they kind of jumped on it. But it's not like we beat ourselves. They're world champions for a reason."
It would have been worse for Capuano if the fourth inning hadn't ended with Gold Glove right fielder Ethier throwing out Matt Carpenter at the plate tagging from third base.
In the next inning, even Ethier looked like he had spent too much time in the Missouri sun, as he misplayed Tony Cruz's bloop single, then overran the ball and was charged with an error for the first time since July 9, 2010, as another run scored.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.