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Patiently trying to rationalize the Dodgers' ups and downs

Patiently trying to rationalize the Dodgers' ups and downs
Dodgers second baseman Jose Peraza is congratulated by third baseman Justin Turner after scoring on a hit by Andre Ethier in the seventh inning against the Cubs on Saturday night. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Ain't baseball grand? It'll raise you up only to break your heart, lift your spirits just to destroy them and then stand over you like Ali glaring at a fallen Liston.

Following a baseball team requires the kind of patience that never tested Job. Teams win and then lose, and then do a little of both. They're great, they're terrible. They blow you a kiss, then punch you in the gut. They're wonderful, they're maddening.

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The Dodgers lost five consecutive games and the season is about to implode. Then they win five straight and all is right in their baseball world again.

Saturday night the Dodgers rallied late against what had been a hot Cubs team to win 5-2 and it was hugs all around. They pushed their lead to 3½ games over the Giants in the National League West … and have it all together to make an impressive stretch run?

"I don't know about all that," said Manager Don Mattingly. "We won tonight. And that's really all it's about."

Exactly. Hot, cold, the focus for the team has to be on today. The Dodgers have taken the first two games of the series against the Cubs, but Sunday they start Jake Arrieta, who's having the kind of season (16-6, 2.22) that looks real familiar to anyone who's been paying attention to Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

And then come the Giants for three games. Things can, naturally, change in a hurry.

Sunday "is the most important game of the year and that series is definitely the most important series of the year heading into it," said Andre Ethier. "We still have one big one (Sunday); we can't look ahead. Tough guy with Arrieta on the mound."

After the Giants leave will come the next biggest series of the year. That's how it works in baseball, though never more than during the looming stretch.

There may be more ups and downs in September. Why should the Dodgers change their personality now? Or maybe this really is the start of something.

"You win and everything feels good," Mattingly said. "You lose a couple and you're talking about something else."

It may be mere coincidence, but the Dodgers' current turnaround coincides with Kershaw urging the team to demonstrate some urgency after their last loss in Houston. Kershaw doesn't take credit, pointing out he made his comments just before the Dodgers started a three-game series against a struggling Reds team.

"When you have guys like him, other guys who've been down this road and know what it takes to come down this last stretch here, you have to kind of wake each other up again and realize what we have at hand here," Ethier said.

The Cubs had not been struggling. And should the Dodgers falter and lose the division, they could well be the team the Dodgers would have to beat out to capture the final wild-card spot. The Cubs lead the Dodgers by one game.

At some point all the highs and lows have to meld into something tangible for a team striving to make the playoffs. Is this the time Dodgers finally start acting like the most expensive team in baseball history? Will they be Ali or Liston?

Hey, it's baseball. Stay tuned. But be warned, patience required.

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