All the Los Angeles Dodgers have to do to win the NL West title is play well against some of the worst teams in the National League.
The Dodgers look to tighten their grip on the division lead when they begin a four-game road series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.
With a 4 1/2-game lead over struggling Arizona in the West and 13 games remaining, Los Angeles (77-72) appears to be in very good shape for its first division title since 2004. After this four-game series, the Dodgers’ have six contests left against San Francisco and three with San Diego - two of the league’s worst teams.
Bidding for a three-game sweep and its fifth straight victory on Sunday, Los Angeles received a brilliant performance from Greg Maddux, but the offense was held in check by Aaron Cook in a 1-0, 10-inning loss at Colorado.
“It’s a very uncomfortable ballpark to try and relax,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. “I look up today and there are all kinds of goose eggs up there.”
It was only the second loss in 14 games for the Dodgers, who started that stretch after a season-high eight-game losing streak.
With catcher Russell Martin not in the starting lineup and right fielder Andre Ethier attending to the birth of his first child, the Dodgers then lost third baseman Casey Blake in the sixth inning to minor lower back tightness. Torre said Ethier will rejoin the team on Monday.
Hiroki Kuroda (8-10, 3.93 ERA) looks to post a rare road victory for the Dodgers. The left-hander is 2-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 15 away starts, last winning on the road against Houston on July 2. He did not receive a decision in Los Angeles’ 6-2 win at San Diego on Tuesday, allowing two runs and nine hits in six innings.
Kuroda lasted six innings against the Pirates on April 14, and gave up three runs and seven hits in the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss.
Long removed from playoff contention, Pittsburgh (63-86) enjoyed the role of spoiler this weekend, sweeping a three-game series from St. Louis.
Adam LaRoche drove in three runs with a pair of hits and the Pirates scored three times in both the first and second innings and went on to beat the Cardinals 7-2 on Sunday.
“Right now, we’re trying to knock out as many teams out as we can,” LaRoche said.
Nate McLouth hit his 25th homer - his previous major league high was 13 last season - and had two RBIs as the Pirates rebounded with three straight wins after losing 17 of their previous 20 games.
LaRoche is the team’s hottest hitter, batting .385 (15-for-39) with eight doubles and 14 RBIs in his last nine games.
Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 8.10) makes his third start of the season for Pittsburgh. The right-hander struggled in his most recent outing, yielding six runs and nine hits in four innings of a 9-3 loss at Houston on Tuesday.
Ohlendorf, acquired from the Yankees on July 26, has surrendered 16 runs - 12 earned - and 21 hits in his last three appearances, spanning 11 1-3 innings.
This will be his first game against the Dodgers.