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Dodgers, Diamondbacks & Rockies poised for 3-team barn burner in the NL West

LA surged into first place with three weekend wins vs. Arizona

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in three of four games to leapfrog into first place in the National League West, but if anything this weekend series at Dodger Stadium showed this divisional race should go down to the wire.

The hero of the final two games was Matt Kemp, who overcame a hellacious slump to blast a three-run home run in the eighth inning Saturday, then a walk-off two-run double on Sunday. Both hits erased a Dodgers deficit.

Kemp’s turnaround this season has been tremendous, from unwanted albatross contract to literal All-Star starter, but since the midsummer classic was hitting a paltry .205/.289/.313.

That was before his home run on Saturday night, off a hanging curve by Archie Bradley.

“That was the biggest hit of the year, so far,” said Clayton Kershaw on Saturday.

On Sunday, Bradley was brought in again to face Kemp with runners on second and third base and Arizona leading by one. The result was eerily similar, only this time it was a fastball and the ball just missed going out, Kemp settling for a double off the top of the wall to win it.

Two of the biggest hits of the year,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts updated on Sunday.

At some point during the series the Dodgers and Diamondbacks each occupied first, second or third place in the division. Thanks to three straight LA wins, the Dodgers end the weekend in first place, a game ahead of the Diamondbacks, with the Colorado Rockies nestled in between, a half-game out.

It’s a three-team race.

National League West standings

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
D-backs --- D-backs --- D-backs --- Dodgers ---
Rockies 1½ Dodgers 1 Dodgers --- Rockies ½
Dodgers 2 Rockies 1½ Rockies ½ D-backs 1

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “These are the things we talked about from Day 1 of spring training, preparing for this type of baseball at this time of year.”

Arizona entered Los Angeles in first place and after a win in the opener on Thursday had a two-game lead. But in the final three games of the series the Diamondbacks bullpen blew leads in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. D-backs pitchers allowed 10 total runs in four games at Dodger Stadium, and lost three times, thanks to just nine runs from the offense.

“Pitching and defense is always a great common denominator for teams that go on and play well. I know that this is a very capable offensive team,” Lovullo said. “I’m proud of these guys for grinding. I’m proud of these guys for continuing to go out there and search for ways to score a lot more runs. I think it will happen.”

Offense has been difficult to come by for the Diamondbacks, who have scored 23 runs in their last 10 games, of which they have lost seven.

Scoring woes have also been an issue for the Dodgers, who have scored three or fewer runs in 23 of 45 games since the All-Star break. The Dodgers were just 3-for-23 (.130) with runners in scoring position during the series, and yet they won three of the four games. Go figure.

Crowded clubhouses

Active roster limits in baseball expand from 25 to 40 beginning September 1, giving teams more ammunition at their disposal for late-inning maneuvering. This was exemplified to extreme in the ninth inning on Sunday.

Left-hander Andrew Chafin was set to face switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal, who hits better from the left side. So Roberts used the right-handed Chris Taylor to hit for Grandal, only to see Lovullo counter with right-handed pitcher Brad Boxberger, the Diamondbacks closer.

Roberts shifted again, calling for left-handed rookie Alex Verdugo, the club’s top prospect. Verdugo walked to open what would be the winning rally, and if you’re keeping score that was two pitchers and three hitters to cover one at-bat.

Welcome to September baseball.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers
Patrick Corbin pitched five scoreless innings on Saturday for the Diamondbacks, whose starting pitchers allowed just five runs in 22⅓ innings in four games against the Dodgers but won only once.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Though the heavy preseason favorite Dodgers haven’t always shown it — their largest division lead in 2018 is 1½ games — they do have one of the deepest rosters in the game. It has helped them cope with the April loss of star shortstop Corey Seager for the season, and with at one point in May having a full starting rotation full of pitchers on the disabled list.

That depth was bolstered with the additions of reliever Ryan Madson and corner infielder David Freese, both acquired before Friday night’s deadline to be eligible for postseason rosters.

“When I walked in it kind of felt like an All-Star Game, to be honest,” said Freese upon joining the Dodgers on Saturday.

Given the setting, it was hard to argue. To Freese’s right were the lockers of former All-Star Brian Dozier and six-time All-Star Chase Utley. To Freese’s left was the locker of Seager, an All-Star in each of his first two seasons.

On Saturday night it was the more recent All-Star Dodgers who made the difference. Trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning, Justin Turner singled and Manny Machado followed with a 10-pitch walk. That set the stage for Kemp to provide his first of two straight days of heroics.

Sunday capped a whirlwind stretch for the Dodgers, who trailed in the division by 4½ games on Aug. 23. Just 10 days later they are alone in first place.

“It’s the resilience we know we have, and we believe we had,” Turner said. “We talk about it all the time, we never feel like we’re out of a game, especially with this lineup.”

The road ahead

With three teams separated by just one game, the division is far from settled. The final four weeks will provide ample opportunities to produce a series as compelling as Dodgers-Diamondbacks, as these three teams still have five more series against each other:

  • Sept. 7-9: Dodgers at Rockies
  • Sept. 10-13: Diamondbacks at Rockies
  • Sept. 17-19: Rockies at Dodgers
  • Sept. 21-23: Rockies at Diamondbacks
  • Sept. 24-26: Dodgers at Diamondbacks

Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild finish in out west.