- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers managed to bounce back after an ugly three-game sweep by the Arizona Diamondbacks, beating the woeful Chicago Cubs 6-1 Friday night at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers have an opportunity to make a move in this stretch of games, with their next eight coming against three of the worst teams in the National League. All three of the contenders in the AL West won Friday, so the Dodgers still trail first-place San Francisco by a half game and lead third-place Arizona by two.
Streaking. For the first time this season, Chad Billingsley has put together three good starts in a row. His stuff was crisp, he was throwing strikes and -- for a while -- he was carving up the Cubs' lineup. Billingsley struck out the side in the fourth inning and had allowed just two base runners by the end of the inning. Things got a bit dicier later, but he made clutch pitches when he needed them. The Dodgers were desperate enough for pitching that they were willing to pay mediocre starter Joe Blanton nearly $3 million to make two months' worth of starts for them, so Friday's outing was a major bit of encouragement. He's 3-0 with a 0.89 ERA since July 7.
A.J. According to the Dodgers videoboard, A.J. Ellis was "trending worldwide" on Twitter Friday night. Regardless of what the people of New Guinea think of his production, around here, they're grateful to have it. On a team with limited offensive options at several positions, catcher hasn't been a problem. Ellis is in the top 10 in the NL in on-base percentage, but he got there more loudly than usual Friday. He smashed two home runs -- the first of which seemed to snap the Dodgers' offense out of a funk -- and was 3-for-3 with three RBIs.
Comes in Hanley. The Dodgers got a nice jolt of energy when they first acquired Hanley Ramirez from Miami, but he cooled off when he got to Chavez Ravine. Ramirez was 0 for his last 10 coming into Friday, but he hustled his way to a double on a groundball hit in the fifth inning and scored on James Loney's double. Then, he lined a two-run single to left an inning later. Friday was Ramirez's first Dodgers start at shortstop and it was an uneventful day in the field. Maybe he will be the extra bat that carries the Dodgers where they want to go.
Slow start. When players come to new teams, particularly in mid-season trades, getting off to a good start can help ease the pressure on them. Shane Victorino didn't get off to a good start. He went hitless in his first seven at-bats. But he singled up the middle in the seventh and stole second base, so perhaps that will get him going. He had been hot in Philadelphia before Tuesday's trade, having batted .333 since the All-Star break, so maybe these first two games have been a mere blip.
Cruz control. Luis Cruz gave the Dodgers a nice little story line when he first got called up from Albuquerque. He drove in runs in his first four games with the club and, going into Friday, led the team with 12 RBIs since the break. But with Ramirez moving to shortstop, Cruz will have to share playing time at third base with two other guys. Friday he was 0-for-4 and he's 1-for-13 thus far on this homestand.
Lilly's prognosis. It certainly sounds as if Ted Lilly won't pitch again for the Dodgers this season after they shut down his scheduled minor-league rehabilitation assignment Friday after Lilly felt lingering pain in his left shoulder. Lilly is hoping to test the injury with a bullpen session in a couple of days, but the lack of progress (he's been out since May 24) isn't encouraging. If Lilly does come back in 2012, it would likely be for the end of the pennant race and, maybe, the playoffs. It could well be in a relief role.
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