LOS ANGELES -- While the long ball is getting all the attention for the Los Angeles Dodgers of late, they have also used an old reliable to get them in position to grab their sixth consecutive National League West title.
Before the current series against the San Diego Padres began, Dodgers starters had a 3.06 ERA since the All-Star break, the best mark in the major leagues. That number had come in 57 starts and 332 innings.
Then came a stumble Friday from right-hander Ross Stripling and the Dodgers fell 5-3 to the last-place Padres. Los Angeles' lead in the National League West fell to 1 1/2 games with just over a week remaining in the season. Stripling lasted just 3 1/3 innings.
Carrying those Dodgers pitching expectations into Saturday's game against the Padres is left-hander Rich Hill (9-5, 4.02 ERA), who has done his part during the team's second-half pitching success. Hill is 7-1 since the All-Star break, posting a 3.55 ERA. In his 11 second-half starts, the Dodgers have gone 8-3.
The Dodgers have not always had all aspects of their game firing at once until the last two weeks. The starting pitchers, though, had long since set an example for the rest of the team.
The intensity has ramped up further as a Dodgers team that has played three National League Championship Series and one World Series over the last five years has that October look once again.
"These are playoff games," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think you can see the intent on every single pitch. We smell the finish line of the regular season. There's a lot of sacrifice going on. The preparation hasn't wavered. The bottom line is we have very good players."
That sounds good, but the Dodgers are actually 1-3 in their last four games against last-place teams. They lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds on their most recent road trip.
The Padres would like to see rookie right-hander Jacob Nix (2-3, 5.75) rise to the occasion amid all that Dodger Stadium energy Saturday, and against an opposing veteran starter who has been a key member in the Dodgers' last three playoff runs.
Complicating matters for Nix is a sore hip that might need surgery in the offseason, although the right-hander is doing everything he can to avoid going down that route. He will not only be focused on the Dodgers on Saturday, but will have to be in lock step with his mechanics as well.
"I don't want to be compensating for something down the chain," Nix said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Nix has just seven career starts, all since Aug. 10. His best outing came Aug. 28 against the Seattle Mariners, when he gave up just one run over 8 1/3 innings, but he has given up 14 earned runs in the three starts since then (6.19 ERA).
Nix has never faced the Dodgers. Hill has two starts against the Padres this year, going 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. He is 5-4 lifetime against San Diego with a 3.09 ERA over 10 starts.