Carl Crawford’s three-run home run gives Dodgers early 4-2 lead in Game 3 of NLDS.

Carl Crawford‘s fourth career postseason home run — in his last three playoff series — brought the Dodgers back from down 2-1 in the second inning of Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.

Crawford, a left-handed hitter, took advantage of a 2-2 slider that Braves right-hander Julio Teheran left over the middle of the plate, turning on the pitch and belting it over the right-field fence. The three-run home run put the Dodgers ahead 4-2.

Crawford’s last postseason home run came on Oct. 9, 2010 in the American League Division series against the Texas Rangers when he was playing for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2008, Crawford hit a pair of home runs for Tampa Bay in the franchise’s only World Series appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu broke Teheran’s early shutout bid with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly on a low fly ball to right field. Juan Uribe advanced to third base on the sacrifice fly, and A.J. Ellis remained at first base, setting the stage for Crawford’s home run.

Crawford hit six home runs in his first season with the Dodgers, but only one after June 1.

Dodgers clinch National League West title and first playoff berth since 2009, beating Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6.

It’s been expected since Day 1. Even more since Sept. 1.

Now it’s official: The Dodgers are going to the playoffs.

A.J. Ellis broke a 6-6 tie with a solo home run off Josh Collmenter in the eighth inning, lifting the Dodgers to a heavily anticipated win over the Arizona Diamondbacks to clinch the National League West title.

See the game-winning home run for yourself:

It’s the Dodgers’ first playoff berth since 2009, when they won 95 games and the division before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
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Daily Distractions: To Hanley, or not to Hanley?

Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers are 35-37 this season when Hanley Ramirez isn’t in the starting lineup. (Associated Press)

At some point this month, maybe tomorrow if the Dodgers have clinched a playoff berth by then, Don Mattingly will be asked how he balanced winning September games with keeping injured players intact for October. The answer was not obvious when the sun rose and it wasn’t any clearer when Hanley Ramirez was listed third in the batting order for today’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mattingly told reporters in Phoenix on Wednesday that Ramirez likely would be out of the lineup today. Ramirez isn’t fully recovered from the irritated nerve that led him to receive a pair of cortisone injections over the weekend, and watching him run the bases has been painful at times. It’s abundantly clear he isn’t healthy.

Yet playing Ramirez can’t be a simple matter of keeping him fresh; he’s 6 for 15 with four runs scored and an RBI on four or more days’ rest this season. Dee Gordon is healthy, so far as we know. So are Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr., who’s been taking ground balls at shortstop recently.

Here’s a better stat: The Dodgers are 52-28 with Ramirez starting, but 35-37 without him. Simply put, they are an average team without Ramirez in the lineup.

Run him into the ground, and Ramirez won’t be in the lineup at all in October.

Don’t play him at all in September and there might not be an October — at least, it’s felt that way at times recently.

At some point, we’ll find out how the thinking goes in the manager’s office.

Here be some bullet points for a National Speak Like a Pirate Day:
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Yasiel Puig returns to the lineup, along with most Dodgers regulars.

Chris Capuano

Dodgers left-hander Chris Capuano starts against the Reds in Cincinnati today. (Associated Press)

The Dodgers used three lineups in Colorado that had never been seen before in 2013. If the last two are never seen again (Michael Young batted fourth and Nick Punto second both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies), many wouldn’t complain.

On Friday in Cincinnati, Don Mattingly went with a more conventional, October-ready lineup against the Reds. Unlike the sub-.500 Colorado team, Cincinnati is battling for position in the National League Central, which will likely send three teams to the playoffs.

For the Dodgers, Yasiel Puig returns to the number-two slot after being relegated to pinch-hit duty Tuesday and Wednesday because of a stiff right knee. The heart of the lineup looks familiar too, and only A.J. Ellis gets a day off among the starters. (Tim Federowicz caught Chris Capuano‘s last start, in which the left-hander allowed one run in seven innings in San Diego.) Capuano was given the starting assignment when Hyun-Jin Ryu came down with stiffness in his middle back.

For Cincinnati, Brandon Phillips is batting second and playing second, one day after leaving a game in Philadelphia with a left quad contusion.

Pete Rose is at Great American Ballpark for an unveiling of a Joe Morgan statue. (Morgan is in the house, too.) Miss Hooters International is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Both lineups for the 4:10 p.m. first pitch (Prime Ticket has the broadcast):
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Yasiel Puig has a new nickname and Chris Capuano has a new catcher.

Andre Ethier

Andre Ethier has started eight straight games for the Dodgers, batting .310 with a home run and a double. He was not in Sunday’s lineup. (Getty Images)

When the pitcher isn’t pitching well, change the catcher.

That was the thinking behind having A.J. Ellis catch Chris Capuano today for the first time since May 29. While the Dodgers haven’t lost a game started by Capuano since July 4, the left-hander has a 7.53 earned-run average in his last three outings and his rotation spot could be in jeopardy come September. Tim Federowicz had caught Capuano’s last 11 starts dating back to June 19.

“I wanted to kind of mix that up just a little bit,” manager Don Mattingly said. “One start with Ricky (Nolasco), A.J. caught him. Then Fed went back to him. I want to keep the mixture of guys’ playing time the same. Cap’s been OK the last couple times out and I just wanted to change the dynamic just a little bit.”

Second baseman Mark Ellis and center fielder Andre Ethier were both healthy scratches against Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy. Yasiel Puig is playing right field and batting fifth for the first time in his major-league career, while Skip Schumaker is batting sixth and playing center field.

The left-handed hitting Ethier typically sits against left-handed pitchers, and Peavy is almost equally stingy against lefties (.254/.289/.465) and righties (.240/.282/.399).

“I needed Puiggy back there a little bit,” Mattingly said. “It’s easier for me just to move one guy. With the group of guys I have in there today, it’s more balanced.”

Based on an informal press box poll, that might be the first time Mattingly has referred to Puig as “Puiggy.”

Both lineups for the 5:05 p.m. game:
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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers are the new World Series favorites.

Yasiel Puig fans

Dodgers fans have pushed the team to first in Major League Baseball in attendance. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

The Dodgers’ fortunes came full circle today, when online oddsmaker Bovada released its list of World Series favorites with the Dodgers on top at 9 to 2.

To recap, then:

The Dodgers have gone from the preseason favorites with baseball’s highest payroll, to midseason busts on the verge of firing their manager, to favorites once again by winning 40 of 48 games.

Friday served as a reminder of how things might have been when the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers’ weekend opponent, fired manager Charlie Manuel with 40 games left in their season. Ryne Sandberg will take over on an interim basis.

It was supposed to be Don Mattingly not long ago. Now it’s Mattingly who will be opposing Jim Leyland from the opposite bench in the 2013 World Series, if these odds are any indication:

Los Angeles Dodgers   9/2
Detroit Tigers    5/1
Atlanta Braves    13/2
Boston Red Sox    15/2
St. Louis Cardinals    10/1
Tampa Bay Rays    11/1
Texas Rangers    11/1
Cincinnati Reds    12/1
Oakland Athletics    12/1
Pittsburgh Pirates    12/1

On a related note, Gary Sheffield is buying in. He tells Dodgers Nation: “I think they have the chips to make it.”

Some bullet points for the weekend:

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Daily Distractions: Is Clayton Kershaw in the midst of the best season ever by a Dodgers pitcher?

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw didn’t allow a run in eight innings against the New York Yankees on Wednesday. (John McCoy/Staff photographer)

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis gets the bigger picture of his existence as a Major League Baseball player. He doesn’t strike me as an over-the-top baseball historian like Curt Schilling, or a numbers guy like Brandon McCarthy, but he does catch Clayton Kershaw every fifth day. So he gets it.

“We’re spoiled, that’s all I can say, having him on our team and on our pitching staff,” Ellis said after the Dodgers’ 3-0 loss to the Yankees yesterday. “We’re teammates with somebody who’s really, really special.”

Some perspective on Kershaw: His 1.87 earned-run average is the lowest in baseball, and he has a chance to post the first sub-2.00 ERA by a Dodgers pitcher since Sandy Koufax in 1966. If the season ended today, Kershaw would qualify for the ERA title (he’s pitched 168 innings) and would own the third-lowest ERA in a single season in Dodgers history. In terms of ERA+, which accounts for how many runs are being scored around the league in a given year, Kershaw is in the midst of the best season by a pitcher in Dodgers history, a hair better than Koufax’s 1966 season.

But Ellis doesn’t need the numbers. He sees it all the time. “The fact that (Kershaw) can come out and reproduce what he does,” Ellis said, “is what makes him the best in the league.”

Onto the bullet points for a Colorado statehood day:
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With Matt Kemp on the disabled list, Dodgers will recall a ‘true center fielder’ soon.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp leaves the field with athletic trainer Nancy Pattersonon Wednesday night after straining his right hamstring in a 4-3 loss to the Angels (Associated Press)

Of all the frustrations Matt Kemp has had to deal with this season, a trip to the disabled list was not among them — until Thursday.

Kemp is optimistic he can return once his 15 days are up, which projects to June 14 at Pittsburgh, after straining his right hamstring Wednesday night in Anaheim.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I love playing baseball. I hate being hurt. This is my second year of being hurt.

“This is a small little obstacle but I’m used to playing 162 games and playing every day.”

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Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper collides with Dodger Stadium wall, leaves game.

Watch video of Harper’s collision here.

Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper left Monday’s game against the Dodgers in the fifth inning after hitting an unppaded portion of the right-field wall face-first.

Harper took a semi-circular route in pursuit of a fly ball hit by A.J. Ellis, and didn’t realize he was out of room until he smacked face-first into the scoreboard embedded in the right-field wall. Harper’s hat flew backward as he fell backward, and he remained still on the warning track for some time before Nationals trainers reached him from the first-base dugout.

Harper walked of the field on his own power. Ellis reached third base on the hit, which was ruled a triple.