Cincinnati Reds 3, Dodgers 2.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig nearly collided on this fly ball, eventually caught by Ethier, in the first inning. (Associated Press photo)

Matt Kemp hurt his hamstring. The starting pitcher, Chris Capuano, suffered a mild left groin strain and was done six batters into the game. Dee Gordon was hit in the back of the neck. Yasiel Puig slid awkwardly in his first game back from a stiff right knee.

Then it was time for the third inning.

This chain of events was reminiscent of June, when injuries led to starting lineups like this one, and each loss further separated the snakebitten Dodgers from the second-place Colorado Rockies. The popular response at the time was to worry about the manager’s job and Andre Ethier‘s value on the trade market.

But this is September and the Dodgers are the World Series favorites, owners of a .783 post-All-Star break winning percentage after their 3-2 loss. Every concern about Kemp, Capuano, Gordon, Puig and the appearance of six relievers Friday (Peter Moylan, Stephen Fife, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez and Brian Wilson) needs to be viewed through the prism of the playoffs.

In that regard, the hits kept coming everywhere but from the Dodgers’ lineup, and for a day it didn’t mean all that much.

Of those players, Puig was the greatest concern Friday, and the rookie outfielder didn’t seem too bothered by the ugly first-inning slide. He played nine innings and went 1 for 4 with an infield single in his first start since Monday. He will almost certainly be the starting right fielder October 1 if he’s healthy, particularly in light of Kemp’s setback, so this was a critical step forward.

Capuano was an emergency starter for Hyun-Jin Ryu, so there’s some question of how the starting rotation will shake out beyond this series. If Capuano needs time on the disabled list, Edinson Volquez becomes the fifth starter and Fife (who allowed four hits and walked two in two innings Friday) the emergency starter. None of the three will be important parts of the Dodgers’ playoff roster, if they’re included at all.

Yet since there’s only one off-day on the calendar (Sept. 23) before the final game of the regular season (Sept. 29), the Dodgers will need their fifth starter four times, assuming everyone else stays on regular rest. Those four games just got a little more interesting.

Of the relievers, only Wilson and Withrow — who struck out five of the six batters he faced — were particularly impressive. Rodriguez allowed a base hit and walked two without recording an out, while Howell allowed the go-ahead runs in the fifth inning on a single by Shin-Soo Choo and a home run by Joey Votto.

Wilson bailed Rodriguez out of his bases-loaded, no-outs mess by turning one of the luckiest double plays a pitcher can turn, catching a line drive hit by Ryan Ludwick and turning to third base to pick off Billy Hamilton. Wilson then struck out Todd Frazier to end the eighth inning.

Puig faced fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman for the first time ever to lead off the ninth inning. The Reds closer, who has touched 103 mph on the radar gun this season, got Puig to swing and miss on fastballs of 99, 101 and 102. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez saw five pitches each from Chapman, but they struck out too.

It was a playoff-worthy finish. The beginning would have counted as an unqualified disaster for the Dodgers in October, or a typical afternoon in June, depending on your point of view. September lies somewhere in between, in the calendar and in its importance, and the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West slipped to a non-threatening 11 ½ games.

The box score is here.

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