Playoffs begin now for the Dodgers

As they come perilously close to being eliminated from playoff contention, the Dodgers head to Cincinnati for three games against the Reds, owners of the league’s second-best record.

Losing two out of three would probably be the end for L.A. (If the Cardinals finish just 6-6, the Dodgers would have to finish 9-3 to force at best a tie with St. Louis.)

This weekend, the Dodgers will be facing three pitchers who have all had recent success against L.A. and carry ERAs in the threes this season.

Friday’s starter for the Reds is Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo has made four starts against the Dodgers since the start of 2010, winning all four with a 2.60 ERA. Two of those starts were in Cincinnati, where Arroyo allowed just two runs and no homers over 13 innings.

Throughout his career, Arroyo has had home run problems, most notably last season when he allowed a league-high 46 home runs. He’s been better this year, allowing just 24, and should be helped further by facing a Dodgers offense that ranks second-to-last in baseball with 101 home runs this year.

Adrian Gonzalez’s struggles might continue against Arroyo; Gonzalez’s .115 average (3 for 26) against him is his second lowest against any pitcher he’s faced at least 20 times.

The Dodgers draw Mat Latos Saturday, a pitcher they saw seven times over the previous two seasons when he was with the Padres. He went only 1-5 in those starts but posted a 2.70 ERA, striking out 44 hitters in 43 1/3 innings. Latos’ slider was a key weapon against the Dodgers in those starts; they hit just .121 (4 for 33) in at-bats ending with his slider and missed on 27 of 57 swings against it.

Latos didn’t initially handle his adjustment out of San Diego well, posting a 5.97 ERA in April. Since then, however, his ERA stands at 3.36, and he’s 11-2 since May 1. The Reds have won 17 of his last 22 starts, including four in a row.

The Dodgers missed both Arroyo and Latos when the Reds were at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of July. L.A. took two of three from Cincinnati in that series, with the Reds’ only win coming in the first game behind eight strong innings from Homer Bailey. Bailey gets the start in the series finale on Sunday Night Baseball.

Bailey struck out seven in that start in L.A. in July, allowing five hits and two runs. It was one of many excellent road starts this season for Bailey, who’s struggled at home. Bailey’s ERA at Great American Ball Park is almost two-and-a-half runs higher than his road ERA. Bailey has excelled this September, posting a 1.55 ERA over four starts in the month, so something will have to give.

Dodgers hitters have had wildly varying degrees of success against Bailey. Adrian Gonzalez has three home runs and six hits in 12 at-bats against him, and Shane Victorino and Matt Kemp have hit .417 and .364, respectively, against Bailey. At the other end of the spectrum, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez are each 0-for-9, and Ramirez has never even reached base.

One of the hallmarks of the Reds’ season has been something currently ailing the Dodgers, and that’s rotation stability. The Reds have needed only one start from someone not in their Opening Day rotation, and that was because of a doubleheader. In a series the Dodgers desperately need to win, they avoid Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto but are faced with the two-through-four starters on the team with the second-best record and most stable rotation in baseball.

With those three pitchers ahead of them and the knowledge that any losses might knock them out of contention, the playoffs are already here for the Dodgers.