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DODGERS 3, PITTSBURGH 1

Matt Kemp, Hiroki Kuroda help Dodgers sweep Pirates

Outfielder's two-run homer in sixth inning puts L.A. ahead for good. Kuroda gives up one run in six innings.

September 17, 2009|Jim Peltz

The Dodgers are poised to reach the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, but how prepared are they for the postseason, which begins in three weeks?

Not surprisingly, the answer pivots on the effectiveness of the Dodgers' recently expanded lineup of starting pitchers.

Hiroki Kuroda was effective again Wednesday as the right-hander held the Pittsburgh Pirates to one run in six innings, and home runs by Matt Kemp and Ronnie Belliard powered the Dodgers past the Pirates, 3-1, at Dodger Stadium.

The win gave the Dodgers a sweep of their three-game series against Pittsburgh and they maintained the best record (88-59) in the National League and their lead in the NL West.

If they win the division, the Dodgers probably would face either the Philadelphia Phillies -- who beat them in the NL Championship Series last year -- or the St. Louis Cardinals in the first-round divisional series.

Despite their record, questions remain about the strength of the Dodgers' rotation.

Kuroda appears to have recovered nicely after being hit in the head by a line drive Aug. 15 and going on the disabled list. Acknowledging that he was "a little concerned" with how well he would rebound, Kuroda said Wednesday through an interpreter, "I'm pretty much satisfied with the comeback."

Left-hander Randy Wolf, who recently missed a start because of a sore left elbow, pitched seven innings Tuesday night.

But left-hander Clayton Kershaw, 21, remains sidelined because of a separated right shoulder and isn't expected back until later this month.

And Chad Billingsley, 25, is getting an extended rest after losing his last four decisions. The right-hander won't start this weekend against the Giants but might return to the rotation next week, Manager Joe Torre said Wednesday.

It's a baseball axiom that a team can't have enough good pitching. But the Dodgers' situation makes the team's late-season acquisitions of starters Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla look prescient.

"You're saying, OK, now I have six and what are we going to do with them?" Torre said. "Then all of a sudden you don't have six. So it was certainly good luck for us to have that."

Even so, when Torre recently was asked if he has thought about a postseason rotation, he replied: "No, not yet." For now, he said, the goal is to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Offensively, the Dodgers still led the league in batting with a .272 average entering Wednesday's game.

Andre Ethier, with 30 home runs, 98 RBIs and a major league-leading six walk-off hits, has become the center of the Dodgers' offense, along with Matt Kemp (.305 with 24 home runs, 94 RBIs) and Manny Ramirez, who is batting .302 with 18 home runs and a slugging percentage of .552, best on the team, despite missing 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy.

Their defense also remains solid and the bullpen, led by closer Jonathan Broxton, who notched his 35th save Wednesday, has been shored up with the acquisition of George Sherrill.

The Dodgers also solidified their bench by acquiring utility infielder Ronnie Belliard from the Washington Nationals and five-time All-Star slugger Jim Thome from the Chicago White Sox.

In Wednesday's game, Pittsburgh starter Kevin Hart held the Dodgers scoreless in front of 53,193 until the sixth inning, when Belliard doubled and Kemp followed with his home run to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.

Belliard added his own solo home run in the eighth inning.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The stretch

Sept. 18-20 vs. Giants (three games): Both teams are battling for playoff berths but the Dodgers hold a 9-6 lead in the season series. And the three pitchers they'll start this weekend -- Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Randy Wolf -- haven't lost to the Giants all year.

Sept. 22-24 at Washington (three games): A good place for the Dodgers to pad their record. The hapless Nationals seem assured of finishing with baseball's worst record for the second year in a row, and he Dodgers haven't lost a season series to the Nationals since 2001, when they were still the Montreal Expos.

Sept. 25-28 at Pittsburgh (four games): The Dodgers, coming off a three-game sweep of the Pirates at home, visit PNC Park, where they've lost only eight times in the last nine seasons.

Sept. 29-30 at San Diego (two games): The Dodgers, who opened the season in San Diego, return there for their final road series. But more important is the fact they'll be back in the NL West, where they won 42 of their first 66 games, the best division record in the league.

Oct. 2-4 vs. Colorado (three games): The Dodgers hope the season doesn't come down to these three games. But if it does, give them the edge: They've won 12 of 15 from Colorado this season.

-- Kevin Baxter

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