Despite sitting in last place in the NL East and well off the pace in the wild card race, the Philadelphia Phillies remain optimistic.
Their situation wouldn't be so dire if they could figure out a way to win behind Cliff Lee.
In what would figure to be a low-scoring affair with Lee and Clayton Kershaw squaring off at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, the Phillies try to win their fifth in a row, complete a three-game sweep and send sputtering Los Angeles to its eighth defeat in nine games.
Following the returns of sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay became the last key Phillie to be activated from the disabled list when he took the ball Tuesday. He allowed two runs over five innings and Philadelphia (41-51) rallied for a 3-2 win, its fourth straight.
The modest winning streak following a 1-11 stretch has suddenly renewed hope that a sixth straight playoff berth is still possible with Utley, Howard and Halladay all healthy. The reality, though, is the Phillies are 13 games behind division-leading Washington and 9 1/2 back of the NL's second wild-card spot.
"Every one of these game has been a playoff game - that's the mentality we have to take at this point," said Hunter Pence, who had a tiebreaking, two-run single with two outs in the eighth inning Tuesday.
Despite a month-long tailspin, the Dodgers (48-44) are significantly closer than the Phillies to making the playoffs. They've lost seven of eight to drop a season-high three games behind NL West-leading San Francisco, and are a major league-worst 6-19 since June 19.
"We're just trying to get through this forest and see the light at the end," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "You can't dwell on the losses, just focus on the next day and have confidence and faith that the next day is going to start a winning streak."
Los Angeles, loser of seven straight home games to Philadelphia, has totaled two runs and seven hits during the last three losses of its overall four-game skid. The Dodgers could be in store for more difficulty Wednesday against Lee (1-6, 3.92 ERA), but little seems to go right for the Phillies when he's on the mound.
Lee allowed three runs and nine hits in six innings against Colorado on Friday but suffered a 6-2 loss, as the Phillies dropped to 4-11 when he pitches. It marked his ninth quality start with only one win to show for it. The left-hander has been backed by 16 total runs of support in the other eight games.
He pitched well against the Dodgers on June 5, yielding two runs and six hits while striking out a season-high 12 over 7 2-3 innings, but was saddled with a 2-1 loss. The 2008 AL Cy Young award winner has been highly effective in four career starts versus Los Angeles, posting a 0.90 ERA that is his second-lowest against any opponent.
Matt Kemp is 1 for 10 with five strikeouts lifetime against Lee, while Andre Ethier is hitless in eight at-bats.
Like his counterpart, Kershaw (7-5, 2.84) has also managed to shut down some of the top hitters on the opposition. The reigning NL Cy Young winner has limited Pence to one single in 15 at-bats and Howard to a pair of doubles in 11 at-bats.
In spite of his success facing those individual hitters, Kershaw is 0-4 with a 4.95 ERA in seven career starts against the Phillies. In Philadelphia on June 4, the left-hander allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings of the Dodgers' 4-3 victory.
Los Angeles hasn't won since Kershaw gave up one run in six innings of Friday's 2-1 victory over San Diego. It marked the fourth time in five starts he permitted two earned runs or fewer.