LOS ANGELES — Five weeks after the completion of their blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally flexing the muscles of their capable but to-this-point underperforming lineup.
Los Angeles banged out 12 more hits Sunday for a 7-1 win and a series sweep against the depleted Colorado Rockies and for the fourth time in their five-game winning streak scored at least seven runs. They have averaged 12.4 hits over their winning streak as a steady “Why couldn’t we have done this for the last month?” reflection begins to emerge.
“We do say that, but you can’t really think like that right now, you know,” said Matt Kemp, who connected for his third home run in the last two games. “There’s a plan for everything, and hopefully that plan is to make it to the postseason. If we can continue to keep doing what we’re doing, there’s a chance we can squeak in there.
“The way we’re playing, I would like our chances against any team that we play against.”
Getting there will be the difficult part, though those who recall the San Diego Padres’ three-game sweep of the Dodgers during the 1996 season’s final three games en route to erasing a two-game deficit may think otherwise.
This time, Los Angeles trails St. Louis by two games heading into the final three games of the season. The Cardinals, who defeated the Washington Nationals 10-4 Sunday, will host the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds beginning Monday. Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh Sunday and is still playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Reds are tied with Washington for the National League’s best record.
The Dodgers will now host the San Francisco Giants at Chavez Ravine. They need at least two wins but realistically have to sweep their Northern California nemesis if they want to play any postseason baseball, even if it’s a one-game wild card play-in.
Because St. Louis’ magic number is two, if Los Angeles goes 2-1 against San Francisco, Cincinnati would have to sweep St. Louis to set up a Dodger Stadium play-in game against the Cardinals to see who would challenge the Braves in a one-game wild card showdown. The only way the Dodgers could win the second wild card outright would be if they were to sweep the Giants while the Reds swept the Cardinals.
Those numbers are slightly too big-picture for the focused Don Mattingly.
“I don’t have time to really feel anything other than ‘we’ve just got to get another win tomorrow,'” Los Angeles’ manager said. “We’ve painted ourselves into this corner, so we’ve got to just keep playing and keep putting wins on the board.”
Challenges this season include lack of timely hitting and a pitching staff enduring Chad Billingsley being on the shelf and Clayton Kershaw missing time due to right hip inflammation.
“You felt like we were going to give ourselves chances and kind of put pressure on a team fairly regularly,” Mattingly said of his team’s bolstered lineup. “Still, pitching is going to shut you down. Good pitching is going to beat good hitting. But I did feel like we would fairly consistently be this type of club. I think this kind of shows what type of club we can be. We hadn’t been this club early on. Maybe it just took a little bit.”
Speaking of good pitching, the Dodgers are going to face a stable of effective arms when the Giants come to town. The three pitchers expected to start for San Francisco this series have combined for 44 wins this season — 16 by Monday’s starter Matt Cain, followed by 14-game winners Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. The Dodgers will counter with Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Clayton Kershaw.
“We’ve always played San Francisco pretty good. We’ve hit those guys good in moments,” Kemp said.
Fortunately, Kemp has rebounded from his late summer doldrums to spark an offense that did what it was supposed to do against the major league’s worst pitching staff. Colorado’s team ERA rose to 5.26 after losing on Sunday.
“I think a lot of guys feed off [Kemp], but that doesn’t take away from how hard it is to hit,” Josh Beckett said. “I think that everybody needs to go out there — even when he’s not hitting — if he maybe just puts a good at-bat together, somebody has to pick him up. He’s obviously capable of carrying any team in Major League Baseball, whatever team he’s on. We’ve got to help him out as well.”
They’ll get their chance over three must-win games beginning Monday against Cain, a darkhorse Cy Young candidate who pitched a perfect game in June.
“It’s almost like you don’t look at it as a series as much as you look at every day you’ve got to put a win on the board and continue to put pressure on St. Louis. We’re kind of doing what we’ve talked about,” Mattingly said.