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On a role: Players believe in Dodgers

On a role: Players believe in Dodgers

On a role: Players believe in Dodgers
The stars haven't aligned properly for the Dodgers yet, and there is no guarantee they will before it's too late to salvage 2012.

A good time to start would be Tuesday night against the D-backs in Arizona, with Clayton Kershaw planning to take the ball against Ian Kennedy at Chase Field.

The Dodgers are hoping Matt Kemp's shoulder is healed sufficiently to enable him to return to center field and recover the power stroke that has been missing since he slammed into a wall in Colorado on Aug. 28.

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Through all the disappointments of late, including losses in five of six games against the National League West-leading Giants, there have been some sterling performances from role players, skilled athletes who do not make the big bucks or stop traffic.

Mark Ellis, the second baseman, and A.J. Ellis, the catcher, have distinguished themselves. Third baseman Luis Cruz has emerged from obscurity to become the most popular guy in Chavez Ravine.

Now, if only the big guys on the marquee can start delivering with consistency, perhaps the last week of the season will be meaningful and fans won't be deflated when October arrives.

Money obviously doesn't buy championships, but it certainly raises expectations. The Dodgers knew that when they made blockbuster deals with the Marlins and Red Sox in July and August for big-name, big-ticket talent.

"I think expectations are good -- great, really," Mark Ellis said. "You want to have those expectations."

Ellis, known primarily for his superior glove throughout his career, has adapted nicely to the leadoff role in a reconfigured Dodgers lineup with the arrivals of Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez in the heart of the order.

"It's different when you're out there every day," Ellis said. "Yeah, we're expecting [to break loose]. We've got the talent. It's just that sometimes guys are trying to do more than they can.

"We're running out of time a little, but we're not dead. The season's not over."

The guy is doing his part to jump-start the dormant offense. Ellis' on-base percentage of .357 is rock solid, along with his . 274 batting average.

He's not a classic burner in the form of Dee Gordon, who began the season in the leadoff role, but Ellis can get around the bases -- if the guys behind him do what they're paid so handsomely to do.

"It's not like it's the first time I've done it," Ellis said of the leadoff responsibilities. "I'm just trying to do the best I can to get on and make things happen. There's nothing else you can do."

The Dodgers are 8-7 with Ellis leading off, 40-28 when he bats second. Shane Victorino has some history hitting at the top of the order in his Phillies days, but his .321 OBP this season isn't what you want from your catalyst. He's been hitting second, between Ellis and Gonzalez.

"Mark's been doing a solid job for us, getting on base," manager Don Mattingly said. "We just need to get things going behind him."

In a season littered with debilitating injuries, the new second baseman is no exception. Ellis was out from May 19 to July 4 with an injured left leg, missing 43 games.

Reflecting his overall value, the Dodgers were five games under .500 in his absence.

Cruz arrived on July 2, unheralded, with few expectations. He has taken full advantage of every opportunity, carrying a .292 batting average through 57 games, with a .426 slugging percentage.

Like Ellis, Cruz feels the Dodgers are capable of exploding any day and carry it to the finish.

"Everybody knows the kind of talent we've got," Cruz said. "We've got to keep playing, keep the faith.

"We still have a lot of baseball left. We've got to keep fighting, stay positive -- and stay together.

"We have a lot of great players here. Once we get rolling, we can win a lot of games. I'm confident -- and so is everyone else in the room.

"We're not going to quit, I know that for sure. We'll keep fighting to the end."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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