Jerry Crasnick, ESPN Senior Writer 271d

Are we there yet? Dodgers still waiting to clinch NL West

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Los Angeles Dodgers were basking in a state of 91-36 nirvana in August and generating lots of buzz as baseball's resident superteam, manager Dave Roberts' to-do list was relatively simple. He just wanted to keep his roster healthy, line up his starting rotation for the playoffs, and maintain the elusive "edge" that great teams risk losing when they're sitting on gargantuan leads down the stretch.

Six wins, 20 losses and a whole lot of introspection later, the Dodgers can't even muster the momentum for a decent clinching celebration.

The Dodgers arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Monday with a magic number of four to clinch their fifth straight National League West title. Since they were taking on a woebegone Phillies team and the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the rebuilding San Diego Padres, it wasn't much to ask for the Dodgers to leave Philly with some closure -- and a few champagne-induced hangovers.

Yet here they are, headed back to the West Coast on the verge of sealing the deal. The gratification of winning the division is tempered by the disappointment that it's taking so darn long.

The Dodgers scratched out a 5-4 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday to pull within a half-game of the NL West crown. They can make it official with a victory over the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at Dodger Stadium -- on franchise icon Tommy Lasorda's 90th birthday, no less.

"It's my mantra right now for all of us," Roberts said. "It would be only fitting that we clinch the fifth in a row on Tommy's birthday. That'll be at the forefront of our minds.

"We expected it (would happen here) and it didn't happen. But I really thought the energy the last few days has been good. The results, not so good. We've just got to carry it over when we get home."

All things considered, the Philly portion of Los Angeles' trip could have been worse. Shortstop Corey Seager, who had already fouled a ball off his right calf against the Washington Nationals, fouled a ball off his right ankle in Wednesday night's game. And third baseman Justin Turner took a Mark Leiter Jr. fastball off the right thumb in his first plate appearance Thursday and had to leave the game in the second inning. The X-rays on Seager and Turner were negative, so they're both in day-to-day mode.

"Anytime you get hit in the hand, it's a little scary," Turner said. "I think I would have been fine throwing. I just don't know how it would have been if I had taken another at-bat. If I had gotten jammed or something like that, it might have made things even worse. Dave and I agreed to be cautious about it."

Amid the potential health issues, two lingering statistical maladies continue to make life difficult for Los Angeles:

* The Dodgers averaged 5.1 runs per game and logged a .794 team OPS in their first 127 games. During the recent 6-20 funk, they've averaged 3.0 runs per game and recorded a .648 OPS.

* The bullpen has also been a drag on the team's ambitions of late. Through the team's first 105 games, Dodgers relievers sported an aggregate 2.83 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. In the 48 games since, the ERA has swelled to 4.79 and the WHIP has increased to 1.31.

Pedro Baez and Ross Stripling have been ineffective, and Roberts would like another reliable righty in front of Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen, so the Dodgers will look to the rotation for a reinforcement. After Kenta Maeda threw 61 pitches and three innings in the series finale, Roberts said Maeda will be transitioning to a relief role in preparation for October. Maeda threw five innings of one-run relief in a brief foray to the pen in June.

"Going forward, we see Kenta as a weapon in the bullpen," Roberts said. "He's done it and he really thrived in that role. He's shown that he can acclimate to changing his routine. Throughout his career, he's been very tough on right-handed hitters.

"In the postseason, when you're counting outs and looking at potential lineups and matchups, there are ways to deploy him that give him the best chance to have success."

Maeda's transition is one of many developments Roberts and his staff will monitor over the final 10 days of the season. The Dodgers also need to determine where Andre Ethier might fit on the postseason roster and if Curtis Granderson and Yasmani Grandal can turn it around after extended slumps.

But first, there's a clinching party to be held at Dodger Stadium. Better late than never.

"Once we get that out of the way, it definitely could be a big monkey off our back," Turner said. "You don't want to relax and let up.

"But at the same time, things haven't been going too good for us lately. Maybe that little bit of relief is what we all need around here."

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