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Saturday, September 29, 2012
3 up, 3 down: Dodgers 3, Rockies 0

By Mark Saxon


LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are adding a hint of intrigue to what appeared to be a dull playoff picture in the National League.

They won their fourth straight game, shutting out the Colorado Rockies 3-0 Saturday night, to pull to within two games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the final wild-card spot with four games left.

The Dodgers will enter their final series -- against the rival San Francisco Giants -- with a post-season pulse. The Cardinals' magic number remains three, meaning the Dodgers can't be eliminated until Monday, at the earliest.

The Good:

Good wood. Matt Kemp got a hanging curveball from Tyler Chatwood in the fourth inning and he did what he should do with those. He hit it so hard, it clanged off the bleachers about five rows from clearing the left-field pavilion. The Dodgers estimate it traveled 461 feet -- why the 1? -- but here are some numbers that are more impressive: Kemp reached 20 home runs for the fourth straight season. That's notable because only one other Dodger has ever done that (Eric Karros, six straight years) and because Kemp missed more than 50 games because of injuries this year. He also hit a towering shot to right field in the eighth.

Blank-ton. Joe Blanton has pitched well lately. In Cincinnati he got into the sixth inning, allowing just one run and striking out six. But Saturday's outing was Blanton's best as a Dodger and, maybe, his best since a complete game against the Minnesota Twins back in mid-June, when he was with the Phillies. Granted, the Rockies aren't exactly rolling out a championship-caliber lineup these days, but the Dodgers have some good things happening on the pitching front and Blanton's part of the story.

Blanket relief. The starting pitchers have been good. The key relievers have been virtually untouchable. Since Kenley Jansen came back, he has pitched 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and pushed his way into the setup role. That has allowed the Dodgers to slot Ronald Belisario in the seventh inning. Brandon League is doing nothing to cede the closer's role back to Jansen. If these three keep it up, the Dodgers won't have to worry about close leads in these final few games.

The Bad:

The jinx. Before Saturday's game, somebody -- ahem -- asked Don Mattingly whether Luis Cruz had done enough to hold onto his everyday job next spring. Mattingly said, essentially, yes -- presuming something doesn't change between now and February. Of course, Cruz went out and had only his third hitless game in two weeks, including a strikeout. Later, he left the game because of a headache.

Timing. Watching the Dodgers hit the past few games left you wondering how they could have such a brutal offensive month before that. If you had those thoughts, you're not alone. "If it could have happened a little bit earlier, it would have been nice," Mattingly said before the game. Had the Dodgers snapped out of this funk just a week earlier, they probably would be protecting a lead going into Wednesday. Now, they're stuck in scramble mode, with any misstep probably knocking them out.

Consistency. Does Andre Ethier do anything in half steps, either good or bad? He snapped out of a six-game stretch in which he batted .160 to pick up three hits and score three runs Friday night -- with a left-hander, Jeff Francis -- starting for Colorado. Saturday, he had another rough night -- 0-for-4 with a double play and two strikeouts. Overall, the trend has been positive. He's batting .308 in his last 33 games. But it would be nice if he could even it out a bit.