A year ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared hopelessly out of the postseason picture. Then they promoted a wide-eyed 22-year-old Cuban prospect named Yasiel Puig. The team suddenly took off with a 42-8 surge and won the NL West title going away.
Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of Puig's major league debut, and the Dodgers find themselves in the same unenviable predicament — trailing the division-leading San Francisco Giants by seven games and treading water with a 31-29 record following their 4-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
"We're struggling to put a few wins together, but we're not down. We're still optimistic," catcher Drew Butera said. "I think it's going to take just a few lucky breaks for us to really get things going."
Dan Haren (5-4) pitched six innings and gave up four runs on six hits, including a two-run homer by Jose Abreu in the first and a solo shot by Tyler Flowers in the fourth.
"We know he's got a few different weapons," Flowers said. "And even though he doesn't throw overly hard, he changes speeds well and can make the ball move in every direction. So you kind of pick a half of the plate and stick with that. Even that's a challenge because of his cutter, slider and his split. But we just jumped on the right pitches."
Abreu drove in another run with a groundout in the third. The big first baseman is this year's Cuban rookie sensation. Puig was last year's, and he's been even better so far this season — even if he is still sometimes a bit unpredictable on and off the field.
The 23-year-old right fielder was tardy for an earlier-than-usual pregame workout with his teammates. But unlike opening day, when manager Don Mattingly scratched him from the lineup for being late for batting practice, Puig remained in the third spot in the order and doubled his first time up. He finished 2 for 4 with a double.
Hector Noesi (1-3) ended a stretch of 19 winless starts, winning in that role for the first time since May 6, 2012, with Seattle after going 0-12 with a 5.42 ERA. The 27-year-old right-hander allowed a run and five hits over six innings with six strikeouts and four walks.
Noesi walked three of his first nine batters, but all the Dodgers could get out of it was a sacrifice fly in the second inning by Dee Gordon.
"He was effectively wild and didn't really give us much to hit," Butera said. "He had a really good changeup, which is his pitch, and he threw it in fastball counts. When we were sitting on the fastball, he didn't really give us the same look on any one fastball. Some of them run in and some cut away, and he mixed them in with that changeup."
Former Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save.
"I think tonight he was a little fired up and had some adrenaline going," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "That's what happens anytime a guy goes back and sees his former team. But he's been great for us. He's started out as a multiple-inning guy, and now he's a closer. He hasn't pitched for a few days, so it was nice to get him in there."
Abreu put Haren in a 2-0 hole right away with his team-high 17th homer into the lower seats in the left field corner, after Gordon Beckham doubled off the top of the fence in left. On Monday, Abreu came off the disabled list and opened the scoring with a two-run shot against Clayton Kershaw before the Dodgers rallied with five unearned runs to win 5-2.
Haren, who has walked no more than two batters in 11 of his 12 starts, issued a leadoff walk to Adam Eaton in the third and he scored on Abreu's fielder's choice grounder. Flowers increased the margin to 3-1 in the fourth with his 27th big league homer — and his first to the opposite field.
Haren had a chance to help himself out at the plate in the bottom half with runners at the corners. But Beckham robbed him of a hit with a diving catch of his line drive toward the middle of the diamond, and Gordon struck out.
NOTES: On the eve of the Los Angeles Kings' showdown with the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, former Dodger 3B Ron Cey said he would be rooting against the Rangers because they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Cey's nickname has always been "The Penguin" because of the way he ran the bases. ... Puig was named NL Player of the Month for May, after batting .398 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 28 games. His 43 hits tied Willie Davis' L.A. Dodger record for that month. Puig received the same honor last June. ... The Dodgers put two men on base with two out in the seventh and eighth innings, but Zack Putnam escaped both threats by retiring Adrian Gonzalez and Gordon on flyballs to center field.