With their next two series coming against the worst teams in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in perfect position to clinch their second consecutive NL West crown.
The Dodgers look to take advantage of the soft stretch of schedule and close in on the title when they face the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.Los Angeles (90-60) owns the best record in the league and leads its division by five games over Colorado with 12 to play.That lead appears all the more solid with the Dodgers embarking on a nine-game trip that starts with visits to Washington (51-98) and Pittsburgh, both of which occupy last place in their divisions. They close out the swing with two games against lowly San Diego, a stretch that could render a season-ending three-game series with the Rockies meaningless for Los Angeles.The Dodgers, who have not won consecutive division championships since 1977-78, took another step toward doing so again by beating San Francisco 6-2 on Sunday. That reduced their magic numbers to eight in the West and four to secure a postseason berth for the third time in four years."We're going to try to clinch as early as we can. I just want to get this thing over with, and winning games is the only way we're going to do it," manager Joe Torre said. "If we don't do it, we don't deserve it. That's what it comes down to."I mean, you're certainly not fearful of anything -- but you get what you earn in this game. There are a lot of clubs at this time of year that wish they could control their own destiny, and we're one of them."Hiroki Kuroda (7-6, 3.86 ERA) takes the ball against the Nationals as he looks to continue his outstanding pitching of late.The right-hander won his last two starts with a 1.93 ERA. Kuroda, 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his last four road starts, yielded one run with seven strikeouts in six innings of a 3-1 home win over the Pirates on Wednesday.His performance has been all the more impressive considering he suffered a concussion Aug. 15 after being hit by a line drive."A little bit of a surprise that he was able to really get back to normal that quickly because he had to deal with a great deal of trauma, not to mention the concussion," Torre said. "To have him jump in there this time of year is important because of what he did last year for us."The Dodgers split a two-game home set with the Nationals from May 6-7, but have dropped their last four games at Washington.The Nationals, owners of the worst record in the majors, fell 6-2 at New York on Sunday for their fifth loss in six games."It was just a lackluster performance," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We can't have that. That's not acceptable."Livan Hernandez (8-11, 5.22), who is 1/3 with a 4.18 ERA in five starts since joining Washington on Aug. 26, will look to turn in his third strong start in a row.The right-hander allowed two runs in six innings of a 6-1 loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday, six days giving up two runs in 7 1/3 innings to beat Philadelphia 8-7.Hernandez has gone 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers this season.