The Cincinnati Reds have clinched the NL Central, so all they have to worry about over the season's final days is whether they can finish with the league's best record.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have more immediate concerns.With their NL wild-card chances dwindling, the Dodgers hope the return of Clayton Kershaw to the rotation Sunday night in Cincinnati can spark a late run.The Reds (92-60) won their second Central crown in three years Saturday, getting home runs from Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce in a 6-0 win over Los Angeles.It was another Bruce homer that helped Cincinnati wrap up its 2010 division title -- that one came with five games remaining -- and Saturday's win kept the Reds just one-half game behind Washington for the NL's best record."It's not the same as two years ago, but I'll take it," said Bruce, who had hit .140 over 11 straight homerless games coming in. "We've been taking care of business for quite a while, so we knew this was coming. Today is a nutshell of what we've been doing all season."They clinched this title without manager Dusty Baker, who remained in a Chicago hospital while being monitored for an irregular heartbeat. He's expected to return to Cincinnati on Sunday, though it's unclear when he'll be back in the dugout."If Dusty was here, it would have been a whole lot better," Phillips told the Reds' official website after Saturday's celebration. "We miss our manager."Cincinnati was the first team to clinch a division title in 2012, but San Francisco joined that club hours later by beating San Diego. While the Dodgers' chances of catching the Giants had been dwindling for weeks, their hopes of grabbing the second wild-card spot are now rapidly fading as well. Los Angeles (78-74) is 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis heading into Sunday night's contest.The Dodgers have dropped eight of 12 largely because of their offense, scoring two or fewer runs in all eight defeats during that stretch."It's mind-boggling," catcher A.J. Ellis told the team's official website. "We have really professional, quality, major league hitters and we just can't string anything together and that's the name of the game, to bunch baserunners. We get hits here and there, but they seem scattered throughout the course of the game."Ellis and the Dodgers can at least hope the return of Kershaw (12-9, 2.70 ERA) -- who hasn't pitched since Sept. 11 because of a hip injury -- can provide a boost. Los Angeles announced Aaron Harang as its starter on Saturday, but made the switch to Kershaw on Sunday afternoon.Harang, who's 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA in his last six starts, could step in early if Kershaw struggles.Kershaw, who has a 1.76 ERA in his last nine outings, is 1-1 with a 3.34 ERA in five lifetime starts versus the Reds.Cincinnati counters with Homer Bailey (12-9, 3.82), who's 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four September starts, winning his last two."He's throwing as well as anybody we have right now," Baker said after Bailey held the Cubs to a run over 7 1/3 innings Tuesday. "It's good to see this down the stretch."The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA in his last four starts against the Dodgers. He held them to two runs over eight innings in an 8-2 win at Chavez Ravine on July 2.
Matt Kemp has been struggling of late, entering Friday with a .164 batting average in September and 18 strikeouts. However, Kemp heads to Cincinnati this weekend, where he has a .325 career batting average (25-for-77) with 8 HRs and 24 RBIs. On Sunday, he will face Homer Bailey, against whom he is 4-for-11 with a home run in his career.