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AP - Sports

The latest injury to the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation is the biggest blow yet, and may severely damage their playoff hopes.

The surprising hitting of Luis Cruz has only improved them.

Cruz and the Dodgers try to withstand the absence of ace Clayton Kershaw on Sunday in order to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the NL's final wild-card spot.

Los Angeles (76-70) has already lost two key cogs in its rotation. Chad Billingsley has an elbow injury that may require Tommy John surgery, and Ted Lilly is expected to undergo season-ending surgery on his injured left shoulder.

Now, the Dodgers may be without Kershaw for a prolonged period after he was scratched from Sunday's scheduled start due to a sore right hip, which also may require surgery.

The same injury ruled the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner out of last Sunday's 4-0 loss at San Francisco, but he returned two days later to allow one unearned run and three hits in seven innings of a 1-0 defeat at Arizona.

That was part of a four-game slide, but Cruz has been a big reason for Los Angeles' winning the last two contests of this four-game set to tie the Cardinals (76-70) for the NL's second wild card.

Cruz connected for a three-run, sixth-inning homer to help the Dodgers prevail 8-5 on Friday, and he followed that up with a game-tying double in Saturday's 4-3, walkoff victory.

"It's unbelievable. It's like a dream for me," Cruz said. "I'm just trying to go out there and give a hundred percent and play hard every time. I'm having the chance to come through in big situations. I'm not going to say I'm lucky, but I've been really concentrating and having good at-bats."

With Kershaw on the shelf, the Dodgers will give the ball to rookie Stephen Fife (0-1, 2.16 ERA).

Recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque earlier this week, the right-hander made three starts in the majors earlier this season, the most recent coming in a loss to the Diamondbacks on Aug. 1 in which he allowed two runs and six hits in 4 1-3 innings.

Since then, he's gone 3-2 with a 5.81 ERA in six games - five starts - for the Isotopes.

Losers of eight of 10, the Cardinals are trying to remain focused following Saturday's heartbreaking defeat.

"We invest ourselves a lot in every game, but obviously this one stings more than others," said first baseman Allen Craig, who had a homer, a single and three RBIs. "It's a tough loss, but putting your head down and being overly concerned about it isn't going to get us anywhere. So we've just got to play better and stay positive. We're still in a good spot."

St. Louis will give the ball to Adam Wainwright (13-13, 4.01) who has posted an 8.56 ERA while losing his last three starts.

The right-hander allowed five runs - two earned - in six innings of Tuesday's 6-4 defeat at San Diego.

Wainwright is making his first appearance at Chavez Ravine since a loss June 9, 2010. He beat the Dodgers on July 24, when he allowed two runs and fanned seven in 7 1-3 innings of an 8-2 home victory.

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