By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- The Cincinnati Reds became the first team to secure a playoff spot and a division title seems inevitable.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' chance of winning their division is bleak and they're running out of time in the wild-card race.
The Reds, who will continue to play without manager Dusty Baker, could have a shot at clinching the NL Central in Friday night's series opener with the scuffling Dodgers.
By sweeping a three-game series from the Chicago Cubs with Friday's 5-3 win, Cincinnati (91-59) ensured itself of at least a wild-card berth. The Central crown could be wrapped up as early as Friday, if second-place St. Louis, which is 11 games back, loses to the Cubs in the afternoon and the Reds beat the Dodgers.
"There's a lot of work left," reliever Sean Marshall told the Reds' official website. "We've got a lot of games to win if we want to win the World Series."
Cincinnati won its last two games without Baker, who was hospitalized in Chicago with an irregular heartbeat. He was expected to leave the hospital and return to Cincinnati but won't be at the ballpark for this game as bench coach Chris Speier continues to fill in.
"Chris Speier did an excellent job, but I think (Baker is) missed, and we're looking forward to having him back, and more importantly, we're hoping for the best with his health," first baseman Joey Votto said.
While Baker remains away from the team, Votto will be back in the starting lineup after most of the regulars rested Friday. Votto is batting .391 during a seven-game hitting streak, and is batting .348 with six homers and 22 RBIs in his last 17 games against the Dodgers, whose postseason chances appear to be fading.
Los Angeles (77-73) was one-half game out of a playoff spot Sept. 3, but has lost 10 of 14 since and is now three back of the Cardinals for the NL's second wild card with 12 to play. Winning the NL West is just about out of the question, seeing as it's dropped 10 games behind first-place San Francisco.
"We're going the wrong direction," Don Mattingly said. "For us at this point, we're going to have to put a run together that's going to be more than just win a series."
A sluggish offense has been one of the biggest reasons for Los Angeles' recent struggles. It managed four hits in Thursday's 4-1 loss, and has totaled seven runs in its last seven defeats.
Matt Kemp has been responsible for some of this mess, batting .148 with three RBIs and 17 strikeouts in his last 13 games, dropping his average 28 points to .303.
Kemp has given scheduled starter Bronson Arroyo problems, batting .409 with two homers in 22 career at-bats, but that hasn't led to many victories for Los Angeles. Arroyo (12-8, 3.74 ERA), who has yet to face the Dodgers this season, has a 2.60 ERA in winning his last four starts in the series.
Against Miami on Friday, the right-hander allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings of a 4-0 loss. It was the first time he gave up more than three runs since Aug. 6, having gone 5-0 with a 2.40 ERA in his previous six starts.
The Dodgers counter with Joe Blanton (9-13, 4.97), who allowed three runs and four hits in 5 2-3 innings in Saturday's 4-3 comeback win over St. Louis. The righty is 1-3 with a 6.43 ERA in his last six starts, going less than six innings four times.
Blanton, who is making his first appearance in the season series, is 2-0 with a 4.85 ERA in four career starts against the Reds.
Updated September 21, 2012