The Los Angeles Dodgers would love to use these games away from Dodger Stadium as a fast road to a National League West title.
So far, though, the Cincinnati Reds are providing quite the roadblock.
The Dodgers were coming off two wins in a key three-game series against the first-place Colorado Rockies when they began a three-game series in Cincinnati on Monday -- seemingly with a chance to build up some quick wins against a last-place team that came in 22 games below .500.
Instead, the Reds improved to 5-0 against the Dodgers this season by winning 10-6, riding NL batting leader Scooter Gennett's four hits and three RBIs. Eugenio Suarez homered off Dodgers starter Alex Wood, who was roughed up for seven runs (six earned), and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. Newly acquired reliever Ryan Madson (1 inning, 4 hits, 3 runs) wasn't much better.
Surprisingly, Los Angeles has a losing record against two of the NL's three last-place clubs, the Reds (0-5) and the Miami Marlins (2-4).
"If they're (the opponent) is a playoff team or not, it doesn't matter too much to us," Gennett said. "Hopefully, we can look (at the end of the season) and see we had a good last month."
The Dodgers need a much-better start Tuesday night from left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has pitched well with a 4-2 record and 2.16 ERA. The problem is that he has made only 11 starts because of an ongoing problem with a groin injury that sidelined him from May 2 until Aug. 15.
Ryu will go against the unpredictable Luis Castillo (8-12), the Reds right-hander who is capable of delivering an excellent start or an ineffective one. He pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in a 4-0 win on Sept. 1, but between that start gave up 10 runs, seven earned, in 8 1-3 innings in losses to the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres.
Ryu made one of his poorest starts his last time out, giving up five runs (only one earned) and an alarming 10 hits in six innings of a 7-3 Dodgers loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday.
The rest of his line looked good -- eight strikeouts, no walks -- but it was a subpar outing for a pitcher the Dodgers very much need to produce in the final three weeks of the season.
"I didn't think we played good defense behind Hyun-Jin and I thought the way he threw the baseball was better than the linescore," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward. "We didn't give ourselves a chance. There were plays we usually make, you could just look around the diamond. Whether it's added pitches or a run that scores that shouldn't. For us, at this point in time, we've got to play better baseball."
They certainly didn't Monday night. Wood fell behind 2-0 in a span of three batters in the first inning, walking Billy Hamilton and hitting Jose Peraza with a pitch ahead of Joey Votto's two-run double on his 35th birthday. Gennett followed a batter later with an RBI single and scored on shortstop Manny Machado's error on Brandon Dixon's grounder.
"They'll continue to go at you offensively and you've got to score as much as you can," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said.
They did, too, as the Reds made it 10-4 against Madson in the sixth on Gennett's RBI single and Tucker Barnhart's two-run single.
The Dodgers scored twice in the seventh and had the bases loaded with one out, but reliever Jared Hughes got Yasiel Puig to line into a double play.
"Any win right now is good for us," Gennett said. "We're trying to finish the season strong and get some confidence to carry into the offseason and into spring training."
The Dodgers got closer Kenley Jansen (irregular heartbeat) back Monday after he was advised to skip the Rockies series, and they recalled former top prospect Julio Urias, a left-hander who is recovering from shoulder surgery in 2017. He had a 5.40 ERA in 11 rehabilitation appearances in the minors.