The Dodgers are hanging in there as they hit a pivotal stretch of their season.
After a disappointing homestand, they opened a challenging 10-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night behind ace Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw day. It has a different feel than any other day of the week. When Kershaw pitches, the bullpen typically isn't taxed and the other team is the one on the defensive. He overcame some awful luck in the sixth inning, with Miami bunching infield hits to load the bases, to give the Dodgers yet another quality start. When Kershaw has his slow curveball working, there may not be a pitcher alive with a bigger differential between his fastball and off-speed pitch.
Homecoming. It's not as if Hanley Ramirez pounded the ball. He hit a seeing-eye single through a drawn-in infield and dribbled a ball 15 feet from the catcher for another hit, but -- hey -- it says he was 3-for-5 with two RBIs in the box score. The fans in Miami booed Ramirez mercifully in every at-bat, but he had the last laugh. His team won and he was a big part of it.
Big shot. Juan Rivera isn't the most popular Dodger right now. He's having a poor season, the Dodgers have gotten scant production from their first basemen and he's slow, so he hits into more than his share of double plays. But he had one of the more meaningful hits of this Dodgers season thus far, a two-run laser shot of a home run to left field in the Dodgers' big sixth inning. Rivera can still do some damage, particularly against left-handed pitchers, so Dodgers fans may as well get used to him.
Lefty problem. The Dodgers' lineup would have a scarier look if Andre Ethier hit left-handed pitchers better. Manager Don Mattingly typically starts him against them anyway, because he's still a bigger threat than any of his other options, but poor results against lefties has been a problem for Ethier throughout his career. He went into Friday's game against Mark Buehrle batting .234 off lefties and then went 0-f0r-4.
Soft spot? With Ramirez and Shane Victorino inserted in the lineup, the Dodgers have a deeper look than they've had at any time this season. You wonder whether Mark Ellis is the soft spot in the key No. 2 spot in what is otherwise a productive Nos. 1 through 5 hitters. He still gives you a lot of good at-bats, but he's stuck on .260. Ellis saw 25 pitches and drew a walk, but couldn't come up with any hits.
Options. Mattingly would have an easier time managing this team if he had better options off his bench. Juan Uribe has been a non-factor and James Loney hasn't performed well as a pinch hitter. Loney is 3-for-17 in the pinch this season, meaning he doesn't exactly inspire Mattingly to call his name when he's looking for a late-game hit off a right-handed pitcher.