MILWAUKEE -- First, there were the questions about the pitching, particularly the bullpen. Then, there were the concerns about how the team would respond with Manny Ramirez out of the lineup for 50 games.
Sunday, the Dodgers answered another question that Manager Joe Torre said he had about them: whether they could wait until the All-Star break to start their vacations.
Behind three hits by Ramirez, two home runs by Orlando Hudson and six well-pitched innings by Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers claimed a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in their final game before the midsummer recess. They went into the break with a 56-32 record, the best in baseball, and a seven-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
"You always have the concerns that when you head into the All-Star break, you sort of take it before it gets here," Torre said. "This ballclub didn't do that."
The nationally televised game was a showcase for why the Dodgers stand where they stand.
The team hasn't lost three consecutive games all season, and rebounded from a 6-3 loss Saturday night.
And the club continued to receive run production from unexpected sources, this time from backup catcher Brad Ausmus, whose fourth-inning home run against Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo extended the Dodgers' lead to 3-0. The home run was Ausmus' first of the season.
"Pure luck," Ausmus said with a grin. "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes."
James Loney said the Dodgers' well-rounded offense helped them survive the nearly two-month absence of Ramirez.
"All different guys contributed," Loney said. "That's probably the biggest thing."
Case in point: Ausmus' home run was the 14th homer hit by the No. 8 hitter in the lineup.
The Dodgers hit 10 home runs in three games at Milwaukee, but Torre pointed to Loney's two-run single in the first inning as an example of why he didn't think his team was one-dimensional.
Loney's single drove in Rafael Furcal, and Ramirez, who hit the first of his two doubles in the inning, scored on center fielder Mike Cameron's throwing error.
Another single by Loney in the fifth inning drove in Ramirez to put the Brewers in a 5-0 hole.
Hudson was mired in a three-for-41 rut before he homered in the sixth inning from the left side of the plate to increase the margin to 6-0. Two innings later, the switch-hitting second baseman belted another solo shot from the right side.
"Everybody wants to end the first half strong because now it's for you to come to the dog days of summer," said Hudson, who headed to St. Louis for the All-Star game Tuesday.
Also traveling to St. Louis were staff ace Chad Billingsley and closer Jonathan Broxton, who will sit out the game because of an injured toe but will take part in All-Star festivities.
However, not everything that happened Sunday was a cause for celebration.
Opening-day starter Hiroki Kuroda pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief and continued to look like a pitcher struggling to regain his rhythm in the wake of a two-month stint on the disabled list.
Kuroda gave up three runs, two hits and a walk.
The Dodgers will resume play Thursday when they open a four-game series against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. The game will be Ramirez's first in Los Angeles since he returned from his drug suspension.
DODGERS 7, MILWAUKEE 4
Everything Is Breaking Right For Dodgers