Maybe the Dodgers have finally snapped out of the maddening, month-long hitting slump that virtually swallowed up their season. Now, they have one last homestand to prove it matters.
The Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 on the road Thursday to keep hope alive. The Dodgers have six games left, all at home against the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants, and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by three games for the final wild-card playoff spot.
With Thursday's win, the earliest the Dodgers can be eliminated is Saturday night.
Cruuuuuuuz. Who is this guy? For a while, it was a pleasant little story -- the 28-year-old longtime minor leaguer finally getting a shot and running with it. Now, Luis Cruz just looks like one of the Dodgers' best hitters. He certainly has been on this trip, where he has hit .402. Cruz created virtually all the Dodgers' offense to get things started. There aren't many people who are blameless for the disappointing way this team has played in September, but Cruz is.
Big boys. Adrian Gonzalez described his swing as "a wreck" recently, but he has produced the third-most RBIs in the majors since the All-Star break (61). He said recently he has finally gotten to a point where he can feel his hands while swinging, a good sign. The Dodgers are seeing the first signs that the middle of their order could be a formidable one as Gonzalez and Matt Kemp are showing signs of getting their swings in order. For the first time since his slump began in August, Kemp had big games on back-to-back nights.
Late life. Coming into Thursday, Chris Capuano had a 5.06 ERA in September, his second-worst month this season (after July). The Dodgers have been getting solid -- if not spectacular -- starting pitching lately and Capuano rejoined the cause Thursday. Seeing this kind of pitching is encouraging -- if not for this year, next year. The Dodgers could start next season with virtually the same rotation they're finishing this season with, plus Ted Lilly and (maybe) Chad Billingsley.
Odd man out. Andre Ethier can be an impressive hitter when he's seeing the ball well. He has good power and lashes line drives into gaps and corners as well as anybody. But it tells you something about a player when -- with the team scrambling to stay alive in the playoff race -- the manager sits him in a key game. Ethier didn't start Wednesday against lefty Clayton Richard. His struggles against lefties and tendency to slump make you wonder if Ethier is the bedrock player many fans hope he is. He went hitless Thursday and has had some crushing at-bats in recent games.
One down. Don't look now, but Hanley Ramirez is batting .212 with no extra-base hits and just four RBIs in the Dodgers' last eight games. It would be a little easier to swallow if Ramirez were a premier -- or even average -- shortstop. But he's an offense-first player and, right now, his primary skill isn't there. Neither is his secondary. Ramirez sailed a throw on what would have been the game-ending double play for yet another error.
Not sharp. Using Ronald Belisario, the Dodgers' primary setup man, in the eighth inning seemed like a questionable idea considering the Dodgers were leading 7-1 at the time and Belisario had worked in two of the team's previous three games. Maybe it was the lack of adrenaline or maybe it was a lack of focus, but Belisario -- throwing as hard as usual -- got hit fairly hard, giving up three eighth-inning runs to make the game more interesting than the Dodgers would have liked.