The Dodgers' men up the middle -- shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Ronnie Belliard -- wielded the big bats, propelling a seven-run fourth inning and a six-run seventh, powering the team to a 14-2 win over the Nationals on Tuesday night, while the man right in the middle of it all, starter Hiroki Kuroda, stifled the Nats' offense on just four hits in six innings for the win.
The Dodgers (91-60) came into the night knowing that they had a magic number of four to ensure them a postseason spot for the third time in the past four years. That number came down to three with the win and decreased to two when the Giants lost to the D-backs.
Meanwhile, with their eye on the present, the red-hot double-play combination of leadoff man Furcal and Belliard, acquired from the Nationals on Sept. 1, combined to go 6-for-8 with five runs scored.
Furcal went 4-for-5, while Belliard was 2-for-3 with a walk. Both contributed in both big innings, with Furcal delivering two-run singles in each, while Belliard had an RBI single in the fourth and doubled and scored in the seventh.
Belliard raised his average to .264 before being lifted in the eighth inning for pinch-hitter Jim Thome. But while he was hitting just .246 with five homers in 86 games with the Nationals (51-99) through Aug. 30, he's hitting .322 with four homers in just 19 games since joining the Dodgers.
He's been hot enough that manager Joe Torre has had him starting at second ahead of veteran Orlando Hudson for the time being, riding the hot hand, so to speak.
"I had a talk with O-Dog today, and told him that without him, we wouldn't be where we are right now, in a situation to win something," Torre said, "but Belliard is hot right now, so we'll just ride it as long as we can and see what happens. Orlando understood. He couldn't ignore how well Ronnie was hitting the ball right now."
Furcal has also started to turn things around, and it couldn't come at a better time.
"He's not coming out of his shoes now when he swings," said Torre. "He seems to have a little better feel at the plate. He's so important for us, because then you get down to the guys who hit second, third and fourth ... they're going to have to throw strikes to these guys. So the top of the order is enormously important to us in order for us to do things like we did tonight. ... I mean not scoring 14 runs, but being able to score."
Almost lost amid the offensive deluge was a brilliant performance by Kuroda (8-6), who tossed six innings of four-hit ball, walking two while striking out six. Both runs he allowed in Washington's third inning were unearned.
"It looked early on like he appeared wilder than he was," Torre said of Kuroda, who gave up both runs when Ryan Zimmerman reached base on a two-out error by Furcal and scored on Adam Dunn's 38th homer of the year, a blast to right field. "Once he got the lead, I thought he threw a lot more strikes and seemed a lot more comfortable."
Though Kuroda slammed the door on the Nationals from then on, limiting them to one hit over the next three innings, he was modest after the fact.
"As you can see, I wasn't at the top of my game today," said Kuroda, "but I got a lot of run support and that really relaxed me."
The Dodgers grabbed an early lead off Livan Hernandez (8-12) in the third inning, when Furcal doubled to the center-field wall and scored when Manny Ramirez laced a two-out double down the third-base line. The Nats answered right back in their half on Dunn's homer.
But Los Angeles stopped that threat in its tracks in the fourth. The club brought 11 men to the plate, as first baseman James Loney got the party started, collecting two of his three hits on the night in the seven-run frame.
Among the highlights of the inning were Furcal's two-run single to left and Loney's two-run double in his second at-bat of the inning.
Capping the Dodgers' deluge in the seventh inning was their lone home run of the night, Casey Blake's two-run blast into the club's bullpen in left field. Blake's 18th homer of the year came with no outs in the inning and set off the second round of fireworks.
The explosion answered a question that Torre had had in his mind as his team kicked off a nine-game road trip after a day off on Monday.
"I'm always a little curious after an off-day, knowing during my playing days and my managing days that off-days sometimes flatten you out," said Torre. "But I was just glad we were ready to play."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.