Braves rough up Brandon McCarthy and snap Dodgers’ win streak

on Jul21

And, on the 18th day, they lost.

The Dodgers’ latest and longest winning streak this season died Thursday, after a robust life span that included 11 victories, four sweeps and six off days.

The Atlanta Braves temporarily chilled baseball’s hottest team, scoring six runs in the first four innings and holding on for a 6-3 victory at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers lost a game on any field for the first time since July 2 and lost a game on their field for the first time since June 26. They have now lost five – that’s right, five – of their last 36 games.

The crowd, so appreciative of the spectacular and sustained success of the home team, did not dream of booing this rare off night … no, check that. Boos were heard, aimed at McCarthy, after the Dodgers had fallen into a five-run hole in the fourth inning.

They got as close as they would get in the sixth inning. With one out, Chris Taylor doubled and Yasmani Grandal homered – the ball caromed off the top of the fence, and over – and the Dodgers had cut the Atlanta lead to 6-3.

However, the Dodgers would not score again. They got the tying run to the plate with two out in the ninth inning, but Trayce Thompson popped up to end the game.

For all that has gone right for the Dodgers this season, the starting rotation beyond Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood has been in a state of flux. The Dodgers appear confident in the revived Rich Hill, but beyond that they are juggling three pitchers for two spots – McCarthy, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu – and the possibility of adding another starter by the July 31 trade deadline.

McCarthy did not help his cause. In his first 12 starts this season, he failed to complete five innings. On Thursday, for the third time in his past four starts, he failed to complete five innings.

He gave up four hits to the first five batters, and a season-high nine in all. His earned-run average is 7.64 over his past four starts, with his overall ERA rising from 2.87 to 3.84.

Still, among the 30 teams, the Dodgers’ list of problems to solve might be the smallest. They might get a starter before the deadline, they could use a left-handed reliever, and … well, they’re still the team with the best record in baseball.

Since they lose once a month – or, at least, once this month – they have become the most prominent target in baseball.

“We’ve got no problem being a target,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Teams come out and play their best against you. We’ve got to be ready for it.”

Roberts also has no problem saying the Dodgers have the best team in baseball. He does not worry about the silly notion of bulletin-board fodder for players on other teams. He does want his players hearing him say that publicly.

“I think it’s a message I’ve said to our guys from day one in spring training,” Roberts said. “I said it this year. I didn’t say it last year.

“I think it’s more of a declaration – not necessarily a challenge – to our own guys. It’s more like what I feel, understanding we still have to go out there and play baseball.”

Roberts said he decided to speak out when the Dodgers sat in third place in the National League West.

“I felt that, at that point in time, there was talk about the Diamondbacks and the Rockies getting off to a hot start,” he said. “I just made a statement that I believed in, and I know the guys in there believed in. As we kept on going through the season, I guess I went a little bit further. But I still believe it.”

Was he worried his players did not believe it?

“Last year I said this too: the Cubs were the best team,” Roberts said. “I thought they were the best team last year, and they did it from the outset of the season. We learned a lot from last year, in bringing back who we brought back. I felt that we were primed. Looking around, I felt that we were the best team.”

The Dodgers have been so relentlessly dominant these days – these weeks, really – that one East Coast writer compared them to the Golden State Warriors. Roberts said he appreciated the compliment but noted one fundamental distinction.

“We’ve got to get a championship first,” he said.

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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