Los Angeles Dodgers fans have been taking nothing short of a mental beating over the last week.
Heading into Wednesday evening's contest against the division-leading San Diego Padres, the Dodgers were informed that they would be without All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal probably until the beginning of their East Coast road trip early next week.
And just moments before the game began, the team learned that everyday catcher Russell Martin was headed to the disabled list with a labrum tear in his right hip.
To make matters worse, Wednesday was a scheduled night off for regular first baseman James Loney.
So as Los Angeles trotted onto the field at the beginning of the game, the fans saw pretty much only three very familiar faces—Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Casey Blake.
Critics around Major League Baseball must have been certain that Wednesday's contest would be the nail in the coffin for the Dodgers.
But in the end, the naysayers were forced to put such thoughts on hold—at least for now.
Behind a two-hit, complete game shutout by red hot righty Vicente Padilla, the Dodger bats finally came alive as they defeated the Padres 9-0.
With the win, Los Angeles moved back within seven games of the Padres for the division lead, and inched within six games of the San Francisco Giants for the wild card spot in the National League.
Now, the question is, what lies ahead in the Dodgers' near future?
The two consecutive wins against San Diego hardly afford the Dodgers any breathing room. In reality, the chances of the Dodgers making the playoffs continue to remain a longshot.
Although it's mandatory that Los Angeles focus on only one game at a time, one can't help but peek at the impending road trip next week, which consists of three games against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, and four games opposing the NL East leading Atlanta Braves.
Thinking about those seven games would make any team in the National League cringe.
But first the Dodgers (56-52) need to maintain momentum and try to close within six games of the Padres (62-44) as they square off in the final contest of a four-game series on Thursday night. A loss would drop Los Angeles back to eight games out of first place.
Chad Billingsley will take the mound for the Dodgers, and he will oppose righty Kevin Correia of San Diego, who looks to improve upon his 7-7 record and 5.06 ERA.
The series finale is certainly winnable for Los Angeles. Slugger Andre Ethier, who went 3-for-5 Wednesday night with a home run, two doubles, and two RBI, hopes to maintain his hot hand; while Billingsley, having thrown shutout ball in his last three starts, looks to add to his 21-plus inning scoreless streak.
Without Martin, Furcal, Blake DeWitt, Manny Ramirez, Ronald Belisario, and even Xavier Paul (optioned to Albuquerque to make room for AJ Ellis), the Dodgers will also look for big contributions from Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, Jamey Carroll, and Brad Ausmus—the not-so-usual suspects.
The Padres however will do all they can to not only defeat the Dodgers, but also try to distance themselves from the San Francisco Giants, who are hot on the heels of the division lead.
Sandwiched between the series finale Thursday and the East Coast road trip next week, is a three game set against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
The Nationals series will also be a difficult hurdle for the Boys in Blue. Earlier in the season, the Nationals won two of three games against the Dodgers on their own turf.
Washington will send left handed pitcher Josh Lannan (2-5, 5.63 ERA), righty Livan Hernandez (8-7, 3.12 ERA), and left-hander Scott Olsen (3-3, 4.12 ERA) to the hill in the weekend series.
Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ted Lilly are scheduled to start for the Dodgers.
Looking even further down the road, Los Angeles manager Joe Torre is expected to announce a decision in regards to his own future managing the team by the end of August.
And at just about the same time, the divorce trial between team owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie is set to begin.
Regardless of what happens with the Dodgers in pursuit of a playoff spot, the organization will continue to be under the scrutiny of the media well into the fall months.
Nevertheless, right now the team is focusing on just one game at a time. With every game they promise to lay it all on the line and try their best to play beyond their potential.
With 54 games still remaining on the schedule, there's still plenty of hope; and with each win the Dodgers inch closer to a playoff spot.
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