The Los Angeles Dodgers are close to wrapping up their second straight playoff berth, but their chances of success beyond the regular season may hinge in part on struggling right-hander Chad Billingsley.
If Billingsley can end a month-long winless drought in his return to the rotation Wednesday night, he'd hand the Washington Nationals their 100th loss and could help the Dodgers guarantee themselves a postseason spot.A first-time All-Star this year, Billingsley (12-10, 4.05 ERA) hasn't pitched like one since the break. He's failed to go more than six innings in any of his last 11 starts, and is 0-4 with a 5.97 ERA in six appearances since beating St. Louis on Aug. 18.His most recent outing came in relief Friday against San Francisco, and the temporary demotion didn't appear to help as he allowed two runs, four hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings of the 8-4 defeat."I'm just going out there trying to figure something out, that's all," Billingsley said. "I'm focusing on every pitch. It's definitely a learning experience."Los Angeles manager Joe Torre thinks he has a better idea of what's wrong."Mechanically, he's just rushing himself -- he's just not packaging it," he told the Dodgers' official Web site. "That just comes from being overanxious, which is something he's going to have to feel and get back to."Despite Billingsley's struggles, Los Angeles' magic number to clinch at least the NL wild card is down to two. The Dodgers (91-60) could secure a postseason spot with a win and losses by San Francisco and Atlanta on Wednesday, and they hold a five-game lead on Colorado in the division."I ain't worrying about that. When it happens, it happens," outfielder Matt Kemp said. "When I come in here and see all the little covers (over lockers) so we can pour some champagne, that's when I'll worry about pouring some champagne. Until then, we've got work to do."Part of that involves getting Billingsley back on track. Last year, he pitched well in Los Angeles' division series sweep of Chicago, but went 0-2 with a 18.00 ERA in two NL championship series starts against Philadelphia, a big reason the Dodgers were eliminated in five games.It would also help Torre's club to have the resurgent offense that has appeared recently. Los Angeles has scored at least six runs in six of its last 10 games, going 8-2 in that stretch.Rafael Furcal had four hits and four RBIs as the Dodgers won 14-2 in the series opener Tuesday, another ugly result in what continues to be a dismal season for the Nationals.Washington (51-99) has once again lost three straight -- the team's 19th losing streak of at least that length this year. The Nationals also are on the cusp of their second straight 100-loss season and would be the first team to reach the dubious milestone in 2009.Ross Detwiler (0-6, 5.80) will still be looking for his first major league victory when he takes the ball. The rookie left-hander has bounced between the Nationals and Triple-A Syracuse this year, but he pitched well Thursday in his first start for Washington since July 8.Detwiler allowed one run and four hits with six strikeouts in five innings at Philadelphia, but got no run support and was tagged with the loss in the Nationals' 4-2 defeat."Before the All-Star break, I was trying too hard to (get the first win)," Detwiler told the Nationals' official Web site. "I tried to make everything perfect. Now I'm just able to relax."