Back Into Contention

The Los Angeles Dodgers are creeping back into the NL West race.

They'll try for their second straight three-game home sweep of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.

The Dodgers (69-63) were tied for first place in the West on July 29, but fell as far back as 7 1/2 games earlier this month. Though just 12-14 in August, Los Angeles has won three straight to move within 4 1/2 games of division-leading Arizona - its smallest deficit since Aug. 7, it was four games out of first.

Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Nationals (58-75) also kept the Dodgers within 3 1/2 games of San Diego for the NL wild card lead as the Padres beat the Diamondbacks.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Los Angeles -185 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 7.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 68% of bets for this game have been placed on Los Angeles -185 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

The Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games against the Nationals, including a three-game sweep from July 28-30, 2006 in the teams' last series in Los Angeles. All-Star catcher Russell Martin has hit .440 (11-for-25) with three homers in his last eight games for the Dodgers versus Washington.

Martin went 1-for-2 with a run Tuesday, and Jeff Kent homered and Andre Ethier drove in the tiebreaking run with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly.

"I go without a hit, but I was able to contribute," Ethier said. "It reminds you that you can win close ballgames. It's going to set us up for what's to come."

Tony Batista hit his first homer for the Nationals, who have dropped five straight and fell into a tie with Florida for last in the NL East.

"We're still dead-last in the major leagues in runs scored, so we needed our defense and our bullpen," Nationals rookie manager Manny Acta said. "Unfortunately, these last few days it hasn't been there."

Things don't get any easier for Washington in the finale as it faces Brad Penny (14-4, 2.65 ERA), whose ERA is third-lowest in the majors. Penny has pitched well against the Nationals franchise, going 12-5 with a 2.21 ERA In 19 career starts against them.

He went 6 1-3 innings in a 10-0 win in Washington on May 29 in his only start against Washington this season.

However, Penny is just 1-3 over his last six starts despite a 3.16 ERA. He gave up three runs in six innings of Friday's 5-2 road loss to the New York Mets.

"Penny was a little uncharacteristic; his command was off," Los Angeles manager Grady Little told the Dodgers' official Web site. "But he pitched well enough to win."

In Penny's four losses, the Dodgers have given him a total of just two runs of support.

Washington counters with Shawn Hill (3-3, 2.31), who has not received a decision in any of his last three starts - all Nationals losses - despite allowing only three runs in 20 innings. He yielded one run in seven innings Friday, but the Nationals blew a four-run ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss in Colorado.

Hill has allowed more than two earned runs only once in 11 starts this season and never more than three.

"The outing turned out pretty good. I started out slow again. I guess I was trying to find a rhythm, but after the third or fourth inning, I started to get a little more comfortable," he told the Nationals' official Web site.

Hill made his only start against the Dodgers on May 27, 2006, but didn't get a decision after allowing one run in seven innings of Washington's 3-1 home loss.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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