The Los Angeles Dodgers are showing no signs of slowing down.
Clayton Kershaw lowered his major league-leading ERA to 1.88 with eight innings of three-hit ball and had a two-run single, and the Dodgers increased their NL West lead to a season-best 7 games Sunday night with an 8-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"When you rattle off a streak like the one we’re on right now, it’s probably a little more than luck," Kershaw said. "We’re a pretty good team right now, and it’s a lot of fun coming to the yard every day and winning games. I think the guys in this clubhouse realize that we’ve got a pretty good opportunity here that we don’t want to waste."
Mark Ellis had a homer and three RBIs to help Los Angeles complete the three-game sweep. The Dodgers improved to a major league-best 37-8 since June 22, including a franchise-record 15-game road winning streak. At the lowest point, they trailed Arizona by 9 games.
"We’ve got 40-plus games left and we play the Diamondbacks a lot more, so it doesn’t really matter what kind of lead we have now," Kershaw said.
The Rays lost their season-worst fifth in a row, but remained three games behind AL East-leading Boston following the Red Sox’s loss at Kansas City.
"It definitely adds confidence," catcher A.J. Ellis said after the Dodgers improved to a season-best 17 games over .500. "We’ve been playing two of the better teams in baseball this week, including the Cardinals — and Tampa Bay was one of the hottest teams in the American League coming in. So this was a big stretch for us."
Kershaw (11-7) allowed two runs — one earned — and struck out eight to help the Dodgers complete their seventh series sweep of the season. Tampa Bay’s only hits off the left-hander through the first seven innings came in the fifth, a leadoff single by Yunel Escobar and a two-out triple by pinch-hitter Sam Fuld.
The Rays loaded the bases with none out in the eighth and rookie Wil Myers drove in their second run with a sacrifice fly. The run was unearned because of shortstop Dee Gordon’s fielding error. Gordon also committed throw errors in the third and sixth innings, but Kershaw erased both mistakes by retiring the next batter on a double-play grounder.
The Dodgers finished their interleague schedule 11-6, their first winning record against AL clubs since going 10-8 in 2004, and the Rays completed their interleague slate 12-8. Kershaw is 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 17 career interleague starts, striking out 116 batters in 111 1-3 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson (10-6) gave up four runs and seven hits through three innings in his first career start against the Dodgers, marking the sixth time in Tampa Bay’s last nine games that its starting pitcher didn’t last five innings.
The right-hander’s 4.93 ERA is the highest among major league pitchers with at least 10 wins. Hellickson has surrendered 13 runs in 12 innings over his last three starts, after going 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA in his previous seven outings. He is 1-6 with a 7.19 ERA in 10 career interleague outings.
"I’m not pitching well," Hellickson said. "The last few games I’ve been in spots where I need to make a big pitch with two out to get me deeper into the game, and every time I didn’t get the job done. Tonight I felt good with all three of my pitches and I thought the command was there, but I lust left some balls up in that second inning and couldn’t get that big out with two outs. The last two weeks have been very frustrating, but I’ll be OK."
Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis opened the Dodgers’ three-run second inning with singles, and both advanced on Juan Uribe’s third sacrifice bunt of the season before Kershaw drove them in with a sharp two-out single through the left side of the infield. Carl Crawford then singled and Mark Ellis doubled home Kershaw.
"We watched a lot of film on Hellickson. This guy’s got an amazing sinker, works both sides of the plate, and when his changeup is right is really a difference maker," A.J. Ellis said. "But tonight we were just looking for balls up in the middle of the zone."
A.J. Ellis made it 4-0 in the third with a sacrifice fly, and the Dodgers tacked on two more in the fourth on a two-out double by Adrian Gonzalez that raised his team-high RBI total to 74. Mark Ellis added his sixth homer in the sixth, a two-run shot against Josh Lueke.
"It was a fun night all the way around," Kershaw said. "We got some big hits when we needed to and put some runs on the board early. But the important thing is that we got a win."
Kershaw faced an all-right-handed lineup that included switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Jose Lobaton. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had his starting pitcher bat eighth ahead of left fielder Jason Bourgeois.
Hellickson, who came in with one hit in five big league at-bats, struck out looking his only time up. He was the fourth AL pitcher to bat higher than ninth since interleague play began in 1977, along with David Phelps for the Yankees on May 8, Zack Greinke for Kansas City in 2009, and Andy Sonnanstine for the Rays in 2009.
Sonnanstine had to bat third that day because of a lineup mistake by Maddon that had Zobrist and Evan Longoria both starting at third base. As a result, the Rays were forced to lose their designated hitter — Longoria — for the entire game.
NOTES: Kershaw is 49-0 in his career when the Dodgers score four or more runs while he is still in the game. … Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig was intentionally walked for the fourth time in the series — two more than he had in his 57 previous big league games combined.