Dodgers are facing an arduous road to reach the playoffs

— The Dodgers are expecting Clayton Kershaw to return from a hip injury and pitch Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are also anticipating Matt Kemp will have recovered from his shoulder problems and be back in the lineup.

“It has to be Tuesday,” Manager Don Mattingly said.

That is, Tuesday must be the day the Dodgers start winning games at an abnormally high rate if they want to give themselves a chance to reach the playoffs.

The Dodgers have lost nine of 15 games since they added Adrian Gonzalez to a lineup that already included Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier. Before their day off Monday, they trailed the first-place San Francisco Giants by 5 1/2 games in the National League West and the St. Louis Cardinals by 1 1/2 games for the second of two wild-card spots.

“Hopefully, we catch fire and get rolling soon,” outfielder Shane Victorino said.

With only 21 games remaining, the calendar is against them. So is their schedule.

Which team could the Dodgers start a winning streak against if not the Diamondbacks?

The Diamondbacks all but conceded their season was over last month when they traded shortstop Stephen Drew and starting pitcher Joe Saunders to contending teams. The two-game set at Chase Field might be the softest part of what’s left of the Dodgers’ schedule.

Their three opponents after the Diamondbacks are the Cardinals, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds. If the playoffs started today, all three teams would be in.

The Dodgers’ games against the Nationals and Reds, who lead their respective divisions, are part of a nine-game trip that will end in San Diego. The Padres sit in fourth place in the NL West but have the best record in the division since June 30.

The Dodgers close the season with a six-game homestand that includes three games against the Colorado Rockies and three against the Giants.

But that season-ending series probably will not decide the division title.

If the Giants win half of their remaining games, the Dodgers would have to close the season on a 16-5 tear to tie them for the division title. But the Giants’ victory over the Dodgers on Sunday was their 13th win in their last 18 games against division opponents, and they won’t face any more teams outside of the NL West.

The Dodgers’ four-game series against St. Louis this week gives them a chance to overtake the Cardinals in the wild-card race. But the Cardinals have six games left against the Houston Astros and three against the Chicago Cubs. As of Sunday, the Astros and Cubs were two of only three NL teams that were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Astros and Cubs also have upcoming games against the wild-card-contending Pittsburgh Pirates, who began Monday a game behind the Dodgers. However, the Pirates lost for the seventh time in nine games Sunday.

None of this will matter if the Dodgers don’t start scoring runs.

In the 15 games the Dodgers have played with Gonzalez in their lineup, they have averaged only 3.3 runs per game. Before their trade with the Boston Red Sox, they were averaging 4.0 runs per game.

Gonzalez is batting only .242 as a Dodger, but .313 with men in scoring position. On the season, he is hitting .387 with men in scoring position.

But Gonzalez has rarely hit under those circumstances over the last two weeks.

Victorino, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline to be a spark plug at the top of the lineup, has batted only .245 in 35 games with the Dodgers.

Victorino said he doesn’t know why he hasn’t reached base more.

“I’m just plugging along,” Victorino said. “Do I want to be on base every single at-bat? Absolutely. Hopefully, it does happen more. But at the end of the day, I go out there and I give my best effort. That’s all I can ask of myself.”

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