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Dodgers riding high with big set looming

LA riding high with big set looming

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LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers stumbled into Phoenix last week on a late-night flight from the East Coast having lost seven games in a row, only sticking around in the National League West race because of Arizona's own struggles.

This time around, when the D-backs head to Los Angeles to start a three-game series on Friday, the Dodgers will be well-rested with Thursday's off-day and confident from a five-game winning streak that started on Saturday at Chase Field.

"It's certainly important we won five in a row, because it wasn't a lot of fun when we lost [seven] in a row to try to feel good about yourself," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "But at this point in time, we're about as ready as we could ever be to play this series this weekend."

Added catcher Russell Martin, "We were struggling. It wasn't very fun getting to the yard, and now that we're playing better baseball, you can tell we've gained some confidence, just the demeanor on the field."

The Dodgers have seemingly turned their season around on a dime, trailing the D-backs by 4 1/2 games -- their biggest deficit since June 21 -- and staring down matchups against Arizona's co-aces, Dan Haren and Brandon Webb, five games ago.

So of course it makes perfect sense that the Dodgers pounded both of them to get back into the division race before sweeping San Diego this week.

Haren, who will start Friday's game, allowed five runs on 10 hits in six innings, and Webb, Saturday's starter, gave up eight runs (six earned) on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.

"We battled them tough, but they didn't have their best stuff last time, so our mind-set can't be to face the same guys we faced last week," Martin said. "We have to be ready to face them at their best."

Derek Lowe, who will start for Los Angeles on Friday, was at his best in Sunday's finale, giving up four hits in six shutout innings. He will duel Haren this time around, with the Dodgers switching him and Billingsley, who will start Saturday.

As it works out, Lowe will miss his fourth duel with Webb since the All-Star break, and Billingsley will miss his third matchup with Haren.

The Dodgers enter their final series with the D-backs trailing them in the season series, 8-7, and tied at three games apiece at Dodger Stadium, where the teams have split a two-game and four-game series.

"They're coming into our house, and nobody comes into our house and tells us what to do," Martin said.

The series represents the last chance for the Dodgers to make a head-to-head push at the D-backs, the club they have trailed for most of the season.

Los Angeles has held sole possession of first place just once all year, when its 4-2 record topped the NL West on April 4. However, the Dodgers have tied the D-backs atop the West a number of times this season.

"We know what's at stake, we just have to come through," said third baseman Casey Blake. "At this point in the season, we need every game. We can't just be happy with winning the series. We need to win them all."

The Dodgers would need to sweep the series to take over first place, but even winning two of three would pull them within a half-game of first with an advantageous schedule over Arizona.

Over the final three weeks of the year, the Dodgers play 10 games against last-place teams San Diego and Pittsburgh, six against the Giants and three tough ones at Colorado. Meanwhile, the D-backs have four at contending St. Louis and six against the pesky Rockies as well as games against the Padres and Giants.

But for one last weekend, the Dodgers and D-backs won't have to scoreboard watch.

"[It's] as big as it gets," Martin said. "At this point in the season, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere, and I think everybody's realized that we're close, we've just got to keep pushing, keep playing hard and just rolling on this wave that we're on right now."

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Derek Lowe (11-11, 3.69 ERA)
Lowe stepped up big time his last time out and outdueled Brandon Webb with Lowe's seventh quality start in his last eight appearances. Lowe threw six scoreless innings, allowing four singles. He will switch spots in the rotation with Chad Billingsley to remain on a five-day cycle and, more importantly, avoid pitching at Coors Field later this month.

ARI: RHP Dan Haren (14-7, 3.24 ERA)
Haren said he is going through a mechanical funk. In six starts in August, Haren had a 5.63 ERA and gave up six homers, raising his ERA from 2.62 to 3.24. D-backs manager Bob Melvin thinks Haren may have to adjust his approach now that National League teams are starting to see more of the right-hander. In his last outing, Haren gave up five runs on 10 hits in six innings, picking up the loss against the Dodgers at Chase Field.

Tidbits
The Dodgers have decided to start Clayton Kershaw instead of Greg Maddux in the series finale on Sunday. Kershaw, who will be pitching on regular rest due to Thursday's off-day, threw six shutout innings against the D-backs on Aug. 1, when he also faced Randy Johnson in a game Arizona won, 2-1. Maddux sports a 9.75 ERA against the D-backs in two starts this season and a 5.37 ERA for his career, more than two runs higher than his career ERA and the highest against any club he's faced more than six times. Maddux will next throw against his former club, the Padres, on Monday after he threw 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball against them this past Monday. ... The Dodgers improved to 49-6 when scoring five runs or more on Wednesday. They have reached that mark in a season-high five straight games, and they have won 10 straight games when scoring at least five runs. ... James Loney's 13-game hitting streak was snapped with his 0-for-4 performance on Wednesday. He hit .453 (24-for-53) during the streak. ... Los Angeles has won 12 of 15 at Dodger Stadium. ... Manny Ramirez is 9-for-17 (.529) with two homers and four RBIs against Haren -- including a single, double and homer on Saturday in Arizona -- while Blake is 9-for-21 (.429) against him. ... Stephen Drew is hitting .609 (14-for-23) with three doubles, a triple and a homer against Lowe, while David Eckstein is at .448 (13-for-29). ... The Dodgers recognized Loney for being named the organization's recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award before Wednesday's game. A video of Loney's charity visits was shown on DodgerVision, and Chevrolet presented a $7,500 check to Loney's charity of choice, Union Rescue Mission, for winning the award. ... Fans at Friday's game will receive Dodgers' "Heart of LA" posters. ... Jeff Probst, the host of reality television show "Survivor," threw out a ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday. ... The Dodgers celebrated Korean Community Night on Wednesday with traditional dances, martial arts and drum performances on the field before the game.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• PRIME-HD, ESPN

On radio
• KABC 790, KHJ 930 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 13-10, 3.13) vs. D-backs (Brandon Webb, 19-6, 3.19), 12:55 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 3-5, 4.50) vs. D-backs (Randy Johnson, 10-9, 4.21), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Dodgers (Greg Maddux, 7-11, 4.18) at Padres (Cha Seung Baek, 4-10, 5.36), 7:05 p.m. PT

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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