The Cincinnati Reds have clinched the NL Central, so all they have to worry about over the season's final days is whether they can finish with the league's best record.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have more immediate concerns.
With their NL wild-card chances dwindling, the Dodgers hope the return of Clayton Kershaw to the rotation Sunday night in Cincinnati can spark a late run.
It was another Bruce homer that helped Cincinnati wrap up its 2010 division title - that one came with five games remaining - and Saturday's win kept the Reds just one-half game behind Washington for the NL's best record."It's not the same as two years ago, but I'll take it," said Bruce, who had hit .140 over 11 straight homerless games coming in. "We've been taking care of business for quite a while, so we knew this was coming. Today is a nutshell of what we've been doing all season."
They clinched this title without manager Dusty Baker , who remained in a Chicago hospital while being monitored for an irregular heartbeat. He's expected to return to Cincinnati on Sunday, though it's unclear when he'll be back in the dugout.
"If Dusty was here, it would have been a whole lot better," Phillips told the Reds' official website after Saturday's celebration. "We miss our manager."
Cincinnati was the first team to clinch a division title in 2012, but San Francisco joined that club hours later by beating San Diego. While the Dodgers' chances of catching the Giants had been dwindling for weeks, their hopes of grabbing the second wild-card spot are now rapidly fading as well. Los Angeles (78-74) is 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis heading into Sunday night's contest.
The Dodgers have dropped eight of 12 largely because of their offense, scoring two or fewer runs in all eight defeats during that stretch.
"It's mind-boggling," catcher A.J. Ellis told the team's official website. "We have really professional, quality, major league hitters and we just can't string anything together and that's the name of the game, to bunch baserunners. We get hits here and there, but they seem scattered throughout the course of the game."
Ellis and the Dodgers can at least hope the return of Kershaw (12-9, 2.70 ERA) - who hasn't pitched since Sept. 11 because of a hip injury - can provide a boost. Los Angeles announced Aaron Harang as its starter on Saturday, but made the switch to Kershaw on Sunday afternoon.
Harang, who's 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA in his last six starts, could step in early if Kershaw struggles.
Kershaw, who has a 1.76 ERA in his last nine outings, is 1-1 with a 3.34 ERA in five lifetime starts versus the Reds.
Cincinnati counters with Homer Bailey (12-9, 3.82), who's 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four September starts, winning his last two.
"He's throwing as well as anybody we have right now," Baker said after Bailey held the Cubs to a run over 7 1-3 innings Tuesday. "It's good to see this down the stretch."
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA in his last four starts against the Dodgers. He held them to two runs over eight innings in an 8-2 win at Chavez Ravine on July 2.
|Tony Gwynn Jr.||3||.000||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000|
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||3||.333||1||0||0||0||1||.333||.666||.333|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|September 15, 2012||Clayton Kershaw||Day-to-Day||Torn labrum, right hip|
|September 09, 2012||Clayton Kershaw||Day-to-Day||Sore hip|
|September 08, 2012||Adam Kennedy||60-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|September 08, 2012||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder strain|
|September 08, 2012||Adam Kennedy||Day-to-Day||Strained right groin|
|September 03, 2012||Javy Guerra||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|September 19, 2012||Aroldis Chapman||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 19, 2012||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin tightness|
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Dodgers know that their latest win has to be the start of something spectacular.
Adrian Gonzalez hit a pair of solo home runs off Homer Bailey on Sunday night, powering Los Angeles to a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that let the Dodgers keep pace in the wild card race.
They remained three games behind St. Louis and a half-game behind Milwaukee for the final NL playoff spot. All three teams won on Sunday.
The Dodgers have dropped 11 of their last 17 games. They are off Monday before starting a three-game series in San Diego. The Dodgers finish the season with six games at home - three against Colorado, three against NL West-champion San Francisco.
That is nine games to make up a lot of ground.
"Just win, man, that's all that matters," Gonzalez said. "We can't go out there and win a series anymore. We've got to go out there and try to sweep. We win nine games, that gives us a legitimate shot at this."
While the Dodgers felt the pressure of trying to stay in contention, the Reds rested several regulars a day after clinching their second NL Central title in three years. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker briefly visited the players in the clubhouse after his release from a Chicago hospital, where he was treated the last four days for an irregular heartbeat.
"I thought he looked great," left fielder Ryan Ludwick said. "He was in good spirits. It was great to see his smile, and he got a lot of hugs from us. He was cool, calm and collected. We all want him here, but we know it's going to take some time."
The 63-year-old Baker became ill while the team was in Chicago last week. The Reds won the title without him on Saturday night, raising a toast to him in the clubhouse after their 6-0 victory.
Cincinnati is off on Monday and will open a three-game series against Milwaukee on Tuesday, giving Baker a day to rest. The Reds are a half-game behind Washington for the best record in the NL and the top seed in the playoffs.
Bailey (12-10) allowed five hits in 6 2-3 innings, including the two homers by Gonzalez, who has five in his career off the right-hander. His second homer started a four-run seventh inning that also featured Mark Ellis ' RBI double.
"I'll tell you one thing: If you want to get Adrian Gonzalez hot, have him hit against me," Bailey said. "I throw balls out of the (strike) zone, and he still hits them out."
Shawn Tolleson (3-1) got the victory with one perfect inning in relief. Ronald Belisario gave up a two-run homer by Denis Phipps - his first in the majors - in the eighth inning. Brandon League pitched the ninth for his fifth save in five chances with LA.
After the loss on Saturday night, the Dodgers changed their pitching plans for the final game of the series, letting their 2011 Cy Young winner see what he could do. Clayton Kershaw hadn't pitched since Sept. 11 because of a sore hip and probably wouldn't have made another start if LA was out of contention. He managed five ragged innings.
"He was just rusty more than anything else," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's Clayton. He's going to keep fighting and battling. He wanted to stay in the game even then."
The left-hander faced a Reds lineup missing four regulars who got the day off after they clinched. Ludwick, right fielder Jay Bruce , third baseman Scott Rolen and shortstop Zack Cozart sat out.
Kershaw hit Chris Heisey to open the Reds' first inning and needed 92 pitches to get through five innings, leaving with the score tied at 1. He fanned Joey Votto with the bases loaded in the fourth to keep it tied at 1.
He was disappointed when Mattingly pinch hit for him leading off the sixth.
"Obviously, I was not pitching that great, but you never want to pitch five innings and call it a day," Kershaw said. "Physically I felt fine. I wasn't throwing strikes, but it wasn't because of the hip."
NOTES: Mattingly plans to start RHP Josh Beckett as planned on Tuesday, then have RHP Aaron Harang go on Wednesday. ... Gonzalez is 8 for 15 with five career homers off Bailey. It was his 14th career multihomer game and his first of the season. ... A.J. Ellis snapped an 0-for-30 slump. ... SS Hanley Ramirez fouled a ball off his left shin in the seventh inning, singled and left for a pinch runner, limping as he headed for the dugout. ... Votto missed 48 games because of two operations for torn cartilage in his left knee. He is batting .314 without a homer in 17 games since his return. ... C Ryan Hanigan left with a bruised right shoulder, hit by a pitch that bounced. Precautionary X-rays were negative.
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