At the time of the season when the games count the most, the Los Angeles Dodgers are counting on a couple of starting pitchers who have spent key portions of the season on the disabled list.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was uneven once more Tuesday as the Dodgers lost yet again to the Cincinnati Reds, and now they'll turn to All-Star right-hander Ross Stripling -- who will make his first start in more than a month -- to try to salvage one victory against the last-place Reds.
Stripling (8-3) will make one of the Dodgers' most important starts all season Wednesday at Great American Ball Park against Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (7-4) as the three-game series wraps up.
And if the Dodgers don't make it to the NL postseason despite the plethora of star-quality talent they possess, and after winning the NL West the previous five seasons, the Reds -- of all teams -- could be the major culprit.
Scott Schebler and Brandon Dixon homered to support Luis Castillo's effective pitching over 6 1-3 innings, and first baseman Dixon made a heads-up play to turn Alex Verdugo's grounder into a game-ending double play in the ninth as the Reds beat the Dodgers for the sixth straight times 3-1 Tuesday night.
Schebler, Dixon and Jose Peraza came to the Reds from the Dodgers in a 2015 trade, and they combined to go 5-for-11 with two homers. Castillo limited the Dodgers to one run and four hits while striking out nine.
NL batting leader Scooter Gennett had two more hits after getting four Monday night and is 16-for-22 (.727) against the Dodgers this season.
The Reds came into this series off five losses in seven games and 13 losses in 18 games, yet they've won the first two games against a team that took two of three from the first-place Colorado Rockies last weekend. And the Reds swept a four-game series in Dodger Stadium from May 10-13, the first time they've done that since 1976.
The Dodgers are a combined 2-10 against the Marlins and Reds, two of the NL's three last-place clubs.
"I have no idea why (the Reds are dominating the Dodgers)," Dixon told Fox Sports Ohio. "But getting to play the Dodgers, where I came from, it's definitely fun. I know some of their guys and getting to hit a home run against them (is fun)."
Starting Stripling allows the Dodgers to push back left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the first-game of a four-game series against the contending St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday at Busch Stadium. But manager Dave Roberts expects Stripling to throw only 45 pitches or so, meaning it very well could be a bullpen game.
"We're a team that plays matchups, so if a lefty is up in the rotation but the team we're facing has trouble against righties (he'll likely start instead of relieve)," Stripling said.
Stripling was on the disabled list for nearly a month with lower back stiffness before pitching one-third of an inning Friday against Colorado. In his last start, he held the Rockies to one run and four hits over six innings of an 8-5 Dodgers victory on Aug. 9.
DeSclafani lasted at least six innings in all five of his August starts, going 3-1 with a 2.62 ERA, but has been limited to 7 2/3 innings during two no-decision starts in September, although the Reds won both games. He is 1-3 with a 3.12 ERA in four career starts against the Dodgers but hasn't faced them since Aug. 21, 2016.
Nobody with the Dodgers is saying if they looked past the Reds to the key Cardinals series, yet they've struggled with Cincinnati much like they did in their previous series four months ago.
Roberts rested his hottest hitter, Justin Turner, on Tuesday, although Turner grounded into a threat-ending force play with the bases loaded in the seventh as a pinch-hitter. Joc Pederson went 2-for-4 with a homer, but the rest of the Dodgers lineup contributed only three hits.
"It was very difficult to not play him, because you know you're always better with him in the lineup," Roberts said of Turner, who is hitting .374 with eight homers and 23 RBIs since coming off the disabled list Aug. 2. "But over the last few years, we've been able to keep him healthy by managing his workload."
Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman credited Castillo, saying, "That's a really good lineup they've got.
"There are a lot of threats in that lineup. But he did a good job. He had a great changeup ... and his velocity, here it is Sept. 11 and he hit 98 (mph) a couple of times. It's nice to see he feels that good."
Ryu (4-3), who was out more than two months with a groin injury, gave up three runs and eight hits over five innings. He is 1-3 with two no-decisions since coming off the disabled list Aug. 15 and has given up 18 hits in 11 innings over his last two starts.