LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers experienced the difficulty that lies with clinching a spot in October during a four-game series against the Giants.
With a chance to secure their first National League West title in four years, the Dodgers dropped three straight games to their rivals at Dodger Stadium. After a 4-3 defeat on Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles heads to Arizona needing to beat the second-place D-backs twice to win the division.
The Giants knew what was at stake for the Dodgers coming into their final series at Chavez Ravine this season, and they gave L.A. all it could handle. The Dodgers expect a similar effort from a D-backs team fighting to keep their season alive.
"We've got a tough Arizona team that's going to want nothing more than to not allow us to clinch at their place," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "We've got to go win two games there and get it done. That's our mission."
The Dodgers, though, aren't exactly setting the baseball world on fire in September like they did in July and August. They are 3-8 over their last 11 games after a disappointing 3-4 homestand.
"There are ebbs and flows," Ellis said. "We were hotter than anybody in baseball for a while. That's just the way baseball goes. We'll right the ship. We know we've got to go and take care of business. We've got to start playing better baseball."
The Dodgers will need to pitch better on the road than they did against the Giants, who collected seven home runs in the four-game set. Hunter Pence was responsible for five, and he homered in each game of the series to join Willie Mays as the only Giants to accomplish that feat against the Dodgers.
Pence went deep twice off Dodgers starter Edinson Volquez on Sunday. A solo shot in the second inning gave the Giants the lead, and a two-run blast in the sixth tied the game at 3. San Francisco went ahead in the eighth on a pinch-hit homer from Brett Pill off rookie reliever Paco Rodriguez.
The Dodgers did not go quietly, though, and had a chance to win in the ninth, when Yasiel Puig, who was held out of the starting lineup because of tightness in his left hip, pinch-hit with two outs and the bases loaded. The rookie sensation grounded into a forceout to shortstop to end the game.
All told, the Dodgers were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The ninth was frustrating, but so was stranding Juan Uribe after a leadoff triple in the fourth.
"We had a few opportunities," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "We had our chances there at the end, too."
The Giants intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez in the ninth to get the Puig, and with good reason. Gonzalez cleared the bases with a double down the right-field line to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in the fifth. The first baseman finished the homestand 8-for-23 with eight RBIs.
Volquez showed improvement again in his third start with the Dodgers, but was burned by the two changeups he left in the middle of the plate to Pence, who sent both over the fence.
Volquez racked up seven strikeouts (three looking) and scattered five hits. Mattingly and Ellis both said this was Volquez's best start with the Dodgers.
"He was great," Ellis said. "He threw the ball extremely well. We ran into the hottest hitter in all of baseball. He left two pitches up and paid for them both. Every time out, he's getting more and more encouraging and more consistent with his delivery. The work he's doing with [pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt is really paying dividends. He was a dominant pitcher out there today, except for two pitches he would like to have back."
Volquez agreed with his catcher's assessment.
"I made two mistakes," he said. "Other than that, everything was good."
Volquez is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts with the Dodgers. But he's throwing the ball better than the numbers indicate. The right-hander has walked just one batter in 16 2/3 innings since signing with L.A. as a free agent following his release by San Diego.
"I feel like I can throw the ball everywhere I want," Volquez said. "We've been working with my delivery. Everything now is more easy. I feel great about what I've been doing."
Pence finished the series with 12 RBIs -- the most by a Dodgers opponent since the Cardinals' Ripper Collins had 13 RBIs during one series in 1935.
"It's extremely humbling and it's an honor," Pence said.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.