Dodgers look to pick up tempo in Cincy

DENVER -- Remember the last time the Los Angeles Dodgers played a series against a playoff contender? They had the Boston Red Sox in town and, even though it came in the middle of one of the greatest runs in franchise history, manager Don Mattingly was a little miffed after they lost two of three.

"If we're going to get where we want to go, those are the kinds of teams we're going to have to beat," Mattingly said. "It gives you a little barometer of what kind of baseball you need to play to win."

Fans in L.A. might not want to hear about barometers right now given the heat, but the Dodgers will get to check another one this weekend in Cincinnati. They'll be playing against a team they might well meet again in the playoffs, a team desperately trying to scramble for better postseason position.

It could feel a little more intense than these last few series -- against the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.

"We're definitely playing against one of the best teams in the National League and one of the most potent lineups out there, so we have to come to play, in their ballpark especially," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "It will be a tough weekend for us, so we have to be ready to go from the first pitch on Friday."

So, all these little experiments and days of rest in Colorado are over for a while. The Dodgers are scheduled to fly from Denver, where they played three listless games against the Rockies with spring training-caliber lineups, and arrive in Cincinnati on Thursday for a three-game weekend series.

The fun and games will be over for a while.

Mattingly also owes it to the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates -- trying to hold off the Reds in the scramble to win the NL Central -- to field better lineups than he did the last two days. And he will. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are both pitching in the series, so that's a pretty good start.

"I do plan on playing everybody," Mattingly said. "We should be pretty much well-rested in Cincinnati, ready to go. All our guys, bullpen, the whole thing."

So, if you found yourself nodding off during the three games in Colorado, in which the Dodgers somehow took two of three and had a chance to win Wednesday before falling 7-5, get ready for the action to resume over the weekend. There won't be any question about how badly the Dodgers want to win those.

In a strange way, these Colorado games might have said as much about the Dodgers as those games in Cincinnati will. Colorado is bad, but the Rockies are not as bad as the Houston Astros. The Dodgers nearly swept them with one hand tied behind their backs, many of their best hitters reduced to pinch-hitting roles Wednesday. It's another indication of how good this team has become as the season has moved along.

"This is a really well-constructed team, really deep in a lot of places," Ellis said. "We've kind of afforded ourselves this luxury with the way we've played, to put ourselves in the best physical condition we can be as we look towards the rest of the season."

The playoffs are nearly a month away, but this weekend might be a good time to start getting in the mood.