Clayton Kershaw hasn't been at his best lately, but the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to win behind the reigning NL Cy Young Award recipient.
The NL West leaders need to get another victory with their ace on the mound Thursday to avoid being swept again in Oakland by the suddenly surging Athletics.
Kershaw (5-3, 2.86 ERA) picked up right where he left off from a year ago for the Dodgers (42-27) by opening this season 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA through nine outings. The last few weeks haven't gone quite as smoothly, however, with the left-hander recording a 5.26 ERA in his last four starts.
He has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but insists it isn't affecting his performance.
"Baseball goes in cycles and it has its ups and downs," Kershaw said after a shaky performance against the Chicago White Sox on Friday. "I mean, this game's not easy. Just because you had a couple of good starts, this game will continue to humble you. So you've just got to keep battling and competing."
He speaks from experience.
En route to winning the NL's top pitching honor last year, he allowed at least six runs three times during a six-start stretch between June and July.
Despite his recent subpar patch, the Dodgers have still won the last three games he's started. After Kershaw allowed five runs, eight hits and two walks in six innings last week, Los Angeles rallied for a 7-6 victory over the White Sox.
Although the Dodgers are hopeful Kershaw can return to his elite form, their offense also needs to show some signs of life to salvage the finale.
After Brandon McCarthy and a pair of relievers combined on a two-hitter in Oakland's 3-0 win in the series opener, Tommy Milone tossed a three-hitter for his first career complete game in sending Los Angeles to a 4-1 defeat Wednesday.
The top three hitters in the Dodgers' order - Dee Gordon, Elian Herrera and Andre Ethier - are a combined 1 for 24 with no walks in this series.
"It's baseball man, you can't hit all the time," said Jerry Hairston Jr., who had an infield single Wednesday.
If the Dodgers are unable to get anything going Thursday against scheduled starter Travis Blackley (1-2, 3.76), they'll be in danger of falling to 2-12 all-time in the regular season at Oakland.
The A's (33-36) have won six of their last seven at the Coliseum and seven of eight overall, with plenty of help from Brandon Moss. The newcomer has six homers and 11 RBIs in the last eight contests, including a solo shot Wednesday.
The lineup received another boost Wednesday with the return of Yoenis Cespedes, who went 2 for 4 with a double and a run-scoring single after sitting out nine of the previous 10 games with a strained left hamstring.
"Every at-bat was good," manager Bob Melvin said of Cespedes, who is batting .462 with six RBIs and six runs in his last eight contests. "Boy he was on it. It was pretty impressive to see."
Blackley allowed two runs and five hits in six innings of Friday's 10-2 win over San Diego to earn his first win since July 1, 2004, when he made his major league debut with Seattle.
"You can't go that long without realizing where you're at with the wins," said the lefty, who appeared in 17 games between victories.
Blackley made two relief appearances against the Dodgers in May while pitching for San Francisco, yielding five runs in two innings of work.
Kershaw made his only career start against the Athletics on June 16, 2009, permitting four hits while striking out eight in 5 2-3 shutout innings.