All season long, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has pointed to his starting rotation as an area of strength, as the team's foundation. Even when the Dodgers were 9 1/2 games behind in the National League West, he routinely said he had faith his team could win behind the five starters it sent to the mound.
These days, that rotation is looking noticeably thinner.
The core of it -- ace Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- has been as strong as ever. But starters four and five have become less of a sure thing.
Dan Haren has lost five straight starts, spot starter Paul Maholm -- his potential replacement -- is lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the Dodgers, more than ever, need right-hander Josh Beckett to get back on track.
Beckett starts Sunday in the series finale against the Cubs in his third start since coming off the disabled list with left-hip impingement. The right-hander has struggled in his last two starts, allowing eight runs on 15 hits in eight combined innings.
Mattingly has tinkered with his rotation in order to compensate for Haren and Beckett's recent struggles, splitting them with Ryu in order to protect the bullpen from two starters who are a "little less dependable as far as length."
Still, the manager said he has confidence Beckett, who is 6-5 with a 2.74 on the year, will return to form -- along with Haren.
"Everybody's not going to be good every time out," Mattingly said, before correcting himself. "I know Kersh is pretty good every time out, and Greinke's pretty good. And Hyun-Jin.
"You can get to everybody else's four and five guys, you're not really sure exactly what you're going to get every time out. [Beckett and Haren] have been pretty good for us. I expect them to be good now going forward and give us some good games. I feel pretty confident about that."
The Cubs will be sending a right-hander in Edwin Jackson who has struggled in his own right.
Jackson is a former Dodgers sixth-round draftee, who pitched with the team from 2003 to 2005.
A year after leading the National League with 18 losses, Jackson is threatening to do it again. He enters Sunday at 5-11 with a 5.79 ERA, looking to get his season rolling in the right direction.
He hopes Sunday is the start.
"You have a couple options," said Jackson, who is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts. " You can dwell on the past and never get anywhere, or you can continue to work and trust what you've been doing and believe in what you've been doing and keep throwing. You never see anybody not get better from not throwing.
"All it takes is one game and then boom, things can spark that quick -- just as easy as one bad game can lead to a downfall. You just have to go out and continue to have fun and play the game."
Cubs: Alcantara to get a break from leadoff
Arismendy Alcantara led off for the seventh time on Saturday, and has been inserted into that spot since Emilio Bonifacio was traded on Thursday. But Cubs manager Rick Renteria will likely give the rookie a break from that role.
Alcantara entered Saturday batting .179 as the leadoff man with a .207 on-base percentage, and batting .269 in the No. 2 spot.
"We might keep doing what we were doing before when we had [Chris] Coghlan leading off and Mendy second," Renteria said Saturday. "We might do that to give Mendy a different look. We'll keep mixing and matching throughout the season."
Alcantara led off at Triple-A Iowa and is used to the role. But this is the big leagues.
"We've put him in a situation at the Major League level to lead off, and it's not an easy thing to do," Renteria said. "He's holding his own and battling in his at-bats. I think by putting him in the two-hole every now and then it'll give him a chance to take a breath and step back rather than try to grind out that first at-bat of the ballgame."
Dodgers: Injured starters could return
The Dodgers had three regulars out of the starting lineup Saturday, but at least two of them seem likely to play Sunday.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (right knee), center fielder Yasiel Puig (left hamstring) and catcher A.J. Ellis all sat with minor injuries suffered during Friday night's matchup with the Cubs.
However, Gonzalez was already scheduled to have the day off against left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, and Mattingly said Puig was available off the bench to pinch-hit.
Ellis could be the biggest question mark. He took a foul ball off his knee on back-to-back nights and had the swollen knee wrapped before Saturday's game, saying it was "pretty sore."
"A.J., after taking that shot off his knee the other day, took another one last night," Mattingly said Saturday. "He's probably good to go, too, in an emergency situation, but he's going to be a down a day, maybe two."
• Shortstop Starlin Castro doesn't want to miss a game, and Renteria knows that. But he may try to give the shortstop a breather now that Chris Valaika is on the team. Valaika played shortstop, second, third and first at Iowa before he was added to the 25-man roster Friday.
• The Dodgers will be without a true long man in the bullpen Sunday after Maholm went on the disabled list. Short reliever Paco Rodriguez, a left-hander, was recalled to replace him.
Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.