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Sweep sets up NL West showdown

Sweep sets up NL West showdown

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LOS ANGELES -- As the Dodgers lost game after game last week on a disastrous road trip that started with eight straight defeats, Los Angeles could always point to its cushy September schedule as reason enough to stay optimistic about its postseason chances.

The Dodgers' September slate includes nine games against the last-place Padres, and that could be a good thing after Los Angeles finished off a three-game sweep of San Diego with a 6-4 victory on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. The win pulled the Dodgers to 1 1/2 games behind the first-place D-backs in the NL West.

"We're trying to build," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole last week, and right now we're on our way to hopefully getting our ballclub back the way we need to be. We're playing obviously an important series this weekend, and I thought it was important that we didn't look ahead to that series."

The Dodgers may have fallen victim to looking ahead to a showdown at first-place Arizona last week while losing three straight at Washington, the club with the worst record in the National League at the time.

But they took care of the Padres three straight times, something Arizona did not do last week in San Diego. Now the Dodgers enter this weekend's series against the D-backs with the momentum of winning five in a row after losing seven straight entering last weekend's set.

"We just had to go through it," third baseman Casey Blake said of the losing streak. "We became closer as a team. Hopefully everyone in here is better because of it."

The Dodgers infield is certainly hitting better than last week, which could be seen as surprising since Angel Berroa and Blake DeWitt have supplanted Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent at shortstop and second base while Garciaparra takes a week of rest and Kent recovers from knee surgery.

Along with Blake, the middle infield of Berroa and DeWitt flashed the type of power Garciaparra and Kent are better known for, knocking out back-to-back homers in the fourth, the first time the Dodgers have done that all season.

When Blake -- batting cleanup for the first time with the Dodgers -- added a solo homer in the seventh, it made for quite an evening for Los Angeles' infield.

"It was a great moment," Torre said. "You have the third baseman, the shortstop and the second baseman all hitting home runs on the same night, and that's pretty good where we don't always count on Manny [Ramirez] to do something, or James Loney, for that matter."

Berroa, who doubled and scored earlier in the game, could not remember the last time he homered, because it came back on Sept. 25, 2006, when he played for the Royals. His teammates pushed him out for a curtain call after first shunning him in jest when he got back to the dugout.

"It felt great because I was out for at least two years," Berroa said. "Now I'm back. I'm getting my swing back, and that's what it is -- coming to the ballpark, working hard, and we'll see what happens. I feel good because I helped my team."

DeWitt returned to the Majors last week and immediately moved into a new position after starting the year as Los Angeles' third baseman. He's now homered on consecutive nights after going 47 straight games without a long ball.

Blake, meanwhile, hit his third homer in his last four games, providing the Dodgers with balance throughout the lineup.

The homers made a winner out of Hiroki Kuroda (8-10), who was supported by 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief after he gave up four runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

"That's a change for Kuroda, who has made 16 quality starts but has just eight wins to show for it because of a lack of support from his offense and the bullpen.

Torre described Kuroda's performance as inconsistent on an evening he mostly worked in and out of trouble but got burned during the three-run fourth.

"One inning he goes out there and seems to dominate with a very aggressive style, and then it just looked like he was sort of tentative and trying to make perfect pitches," Torre said. "It seems when he gets a little momentum going he's really good, and then other times when he can't make the pitch he intends to make he seems to get frustrated."

After taking care of business against the Padres, the Dodgers have returned to the .500 mark they've hovered around all season.

Although the Dodgers have hopes of eventually leaving that mark in the dust, they'll certainly take it after their season threatened to spiral out of control last week.

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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