The St. Louis Cardinals are looking to pad their slim lead for a wild-card spot, and they're already capitalizing on an advantageous schedule.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are their closest pursuer, but mired in an untimely funk.
The Cardinals will try to widen their lead for a playoff spot by beating the Dodgers for a fifth straight game Friday night at Chavez Ravine.
St. Louis (76-68) holds the league's second wild-card position, two games ahead of Los Angeles (74-70) with Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Arizona lurking not far behind.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they're in position to begin putting together a strong stretch in the hopes of starting to pull away from the pack.
After facing the Dodgers in this four-game set, St. Louis' next nine games include six with Houston and three with Chicago, division rivals who also have the NL's worst records.
Before that, the Cardinals will try to continue distancing themselves from Los Angeles, which has dropped seven of eight while scoring 14 runs and hitting .210.
St. Louis got this series off to positive start, winning 2-1 on Thursday. The Cardinals are now looking to win five in a row against Los Angeles in a single season for the first time since taking all seven games in 2006.
"It's definitely a dogfight," said Allen Craig , who drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh.
Craig may continue playing a part in that success since he's hitting .417 with 13 RBIs in 12 career meetings. He's gone 6 for 10 with one homer while plating four runs in three road games.
The first baseman is also 4 for 6 with two doubles and a homer versus Dodgers scheduled starter Chris Capuano .
Catcher Yadier Molina is hitting .415 over his last 11 visits to Dodger Stadium after getting three hits Thursday.
Joe Kelly (5-6, 3.51), a native of Anaheim, Calif., is slated to get the ball in Los Angeles for the first time.
The rookie right-hander has been solid over his last two outings, going 1-0 while allowing four runs and 10 hits in 12 2-3 innings. He was impressive in his most recent trip to the mound Sunday, yielding two runs in six innings of a 5-4 win in 10 over Milwaukee.
"He's been obviously a pleasant surprise throughout the season for us," manager Mike Matheny told the team's official website. "He continues to make adjustments. That's something he does well. He can adjust to being a ground ball pitcher or someone who tries to strike somebody out."
Kelly allowed three runs - two earned - in the second inning and was backed by one run before leaving after the sixth of a 5-3 defeat to Los Angeles on July 23.
The Dodgers will try to get to him again after batting .164 with three runs during their current four-game slide.
"The pitchers are doing their job, but we're not scoring runs," said Matt Kemp , who is 3 for 24 in his last six games. "One run is not going to win games in series like this, so we've got to find a way to get the job done. I can't really explain what's going on."
Offense may be necessary with Capuano (11-10, 3.59) taking the mound since he's 1-5 with a 6.09 ERA in 10 starts against the Cardinals. He was hit hard in the last meeting, surrendering six runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-4 loss at St. Louis on July 26.
The left-hander enters this matchup with an 0-2 record and 5.93 ERA in five starts since a win at Miami on Aug. 12.
Capuano gave up two runs in seven innings while not getting a decision in Saturday's 3-2 win at San Francisco.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|September 11, 2012||Adam Kennedy||60-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|September 09, 2012||Clayton Kershaw||Day-to-Day||Sore hip|
|September 08, 2012||Adam Kennedy||Day-to-Day||Strained right groin|
|September 08, 2012||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder strain|
|September 03, 2012||Javy Guerra||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|September 01, 2012||Chris Withrow||60-Day DL||Recovery from torn pectoral muscle|
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luis Cruz wasn't a significant piece of the Los Angeles Dodgers ' roster until third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. went down for the rest of the season in mid-August with inflammation in his left hip. Since then, the four-year veteran has done more than his share to help keep his team in the postseason hunt.
Cruz greeted St. Louis reliever Edwin Mujica with a first-pitch, three-run homer in the sixth inning Friday night, and the Dodgers tightened up the NL wild card race with an 8-5 victory over the Cardinals.
"It was very uplifting," Dodgers left fielder Shane Victorino said. "In this game, confidence it very big. But to me, he's always been a great player, I played against him, and he's never gotten has his opportunity to really go out there and shine. Then it took Jerry getting hurt to get him his opportunity. And when he got it, he shined.
"He's one of those guys on this team that nobody talks about, but yet he's come up with big hit after big hit and played great defense. He's playing consistently at a high level, and I'm very happy for him," Victorino said.
Trevor Rosenthal (0-2) inherited a 4-3 lead from fellow rookie Joe Kelly after five innings and gave up a leadoff single by Andre Ethier , who got the Dodgers back into the game in the third with a two-run homer. Rosenthal hit Hanley Ramirez on a 1-0 count two outs later and manager Mike Matheny made the switch to Mujica - who has given up 17 runs and six homers in 21 1-3 career innings against the Dodgers.
"I felt a little out of my timing today, so before that at-bat I just told myself to take a pitch, just to see if he was thinking about pitching me inside," Cruz said. "But I was relaxed, and I saw it just hanging there. So I just reacted and hit it. But I wasn't trying to hit a homer."
Mujica had allowed one run in 19 innings over his 20 previous appearances with St. Louis after he was acquired in a trade with Miami on July 31. The Dodgers had a similar come-from-behind victory over the Cardinals on May 20 at Dodger Stadium, when pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke hit a go-ahead three-run homer off Mark Rzepczynski in the seventh inning.
"It was one pitch," Matheny said. "We got him into trouble by putting a couple of guys on base, and that usually adds some tough outs. But he's been terrific for us. Joe was struggling, and it was one of those days for the bullpen to come in and pick up the starter in those middle innings. We all know very well that it's hurt us, and it continued to do so tonight."
Adrian Gonzalez made it 8-4 with a two-run double in the seventh off the glove of a diving Matt Holliday .
"Tonight we scored some runs and played the game right," Cruz said. "It's our time now. And from now on we're going to keep playing hard every day. We've got to keep fighting. We're never going to give up, and I think we're going to come through and win a wild card spot."
Rookie Shawn Tolleson (2-1) pitched 1 1-3 innings of hitless relief for the victory after the Dodgers got starter Chris Capuano off the hook. Capuano was charged with four runs - two earned - and six hits in four innings, including second-inning solo homers by Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter and a two-run shot in the third by Holliday.
The temperature was 96 degrees when Capuano threw his first pitch, and the 34-year-old left-hander grew even hotter under the collar in the second inning when Molina drove an 0-2 pitch to left-center for his 19th homer and Carpenter added his sixth of the season two batters later. It was the 12th time Capuano allowed two homers in an inning during his eight big league seasons.
The Dodgers, averaging only 1.6 runs over their previous eight games, got on the board in the bottom half when Gonzalez led off with a double and scored on a groundout by Cruz, but the Cardinals extended their lead to 4-1 in the third when Carlos Beltran reached on a two-out throwing error by shortstop Ramirez and Holliday cashed it in with his 27th home run.
The Dodgers responded in the bottom half when Ethier got the green light from manager Don Mattingly on a 3-0 pitch and drove his 18th homer deep into the pavilion seats in right-center after a two-out walk to Victorino - back in the leadoff spot for the first time since Aug. 27 with second baseman Mark Ellis getting the night off.
"Dre's home run on a 3-0 green light was huge," Mattingly said. "He's dangerous and especially aggressive when you let him go on 3-0. This was a good time for those home runs. It's a two-game swing. I'm just glad I don't have to talk about another loss."
Second baseman Nick Punto , starting his third game with the Dodgers since he was acquired on Aug. 25 in the nine-player trade with Boston, slid head-first into first base each of his first two times up on slow bouncers to third baseman David Freese . He was out the first time and safe the second time, but was picked off by catcher Molina in the fifth with pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu batting and the Dodgers down 4-3.
Kelly allowed three runs and four hits in five innings with two strikeouts and two walks.
NOTES: The crowd of 40,167 pushed the Dodgers home attendance total to 3,022,468. Last year they failed to reach 3 million for the first time in a non-strike season since 1992. ... RHP Chris Carpenter is scheduled to throw 90 pitches in a simulated game on Saturday with the hope of making his season debut for the Cardinals by next week. He was shut down during spring training because of thoracic outlet syndrome and underwent surgery July 19. ... Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen , sidelined since Aug. 28 because of an irregular heartbeat, was given clearance to the team's medical staff to pitch again for the Dodgers as early as next Tuesday. ... Dodgers LHP Ted Lilly , who hasn't pitched for the Dodgers since May 23 because of shoulder inflammation, was shut down for the rest of the season and will undergo surgery on Sept. 21. He finished 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts. ... Molina had no RBIs in 24 at-bats this season against the Dodgers prior to his homer.