LA worse when expected to be first

ST. LOUIS - Stiff winds greeted the L.A. Dodgers when they arrived in St. Louis, and the team had to hope they were winds of change.

Losing three straight to Arizona less than a week after finishing a rough six-game tussle with Atlanta left the Dodgers with a 1-8 record against division leaders going into Friday night's game with the Cardinals.

Management expects more from a team with a $90 million payroll, and rightfully so. And while those close to this team feel it's a safer vessel than the shipwreck of 1999, the Dodgers were 18-15 after 33 games last season.

Right now, they're 17-16.

''We've had a rough few days, but it's a good group out there,'' Dodgers manager Davey Johnson said. ''We're going in the right direction, and everyone's feeling real good. Just a little tweak here or there and we're going to be a lot better.''

The one tweak the Dodgers need most right now is to add a dominant left-handed reliever, and that's a commodity hard to find.

Arizona exploited this weakness, especially in its come-from-behind victories on Tuesday and Wednesday. Right-hander Terry Adams gave up two big runs on Tuesday and the winning run Wednesday, and the bulk of the damage was done by left-handed hitters.

Steve Finley had a two-run single off Adams on Tuesday, and a trio of left-handed hitters - Andy Fox, Travis Lee and Tony Womack - singled off him in the ninth inning Wednesday.

The Dodgers have 10 more games against Arizona (four in June and six in September), and this is one area they'll have to address.

One team official said they already have sent out fliers on Colorado's Brian Bohanon and Toronto's Pedro Borbon, both former Dodgers.

Beyond that glaring need, the Dodgers like how they match up with Arizona. But the Diamondbacks, winners of seven straight, have shown they are again the team to beat in the NL West.

They own a 6 1/2-game edge on the Dodgers, and they've done that without last year's MVP candidate Matt Williams and closer Matt Mantei. Williams could return from his broken right injury in less than three weeks, and Mantei (weakened right shoulder) is expected back on May 20.

Left fielder Gary Sheffield said the Dodgers wanted to make a statement to the Diamondbacks this week, and perhaps the message was lost in the sweep. But the season is less only one-fifth over, and the Dodgers' early schedule has been much tougher this season with the added challenge of playing 28 of the first 42 games on the road.

''We've played pretty well up to this point,'' Adams said. ''Right now, we're just not getting the pitching we need in the bullpen. But we're definitely in the same class as that team (Arizona).''

They have another chance to prove it in St. Louis.

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