A Tight Pennant Race May Be Just What the Dodgers Need

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Nothing has come easy for the Dodgers this season. Staying true to form, the latest series with the Arizona Diamondbacks was no exception.

It was everything we’ve seen so far this season—good starting pitching, a low-scoring offense, and the bullpen blowing the lead. Multiple runners were once again left in scoring position.

But a funny thing happened. After Thursday’s loss where the only run was a Manny Machado home run, the Dodgers somehow managed to scrape, and thanks to some late inning heroics, took three-of-four from Diamondbacks, claiming sole possession of first place once again.

The narrative changed a little this weekend. Fans have noticed that the Dodgers don’t quite have that clutch gene they were missing from last season. And I suppose that is still kind of true, as the Dodgers went 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position over the four-game series. Two of those hits, though, were from Matt Kemp, whose clutch hitting won Saturday’s and Sunday’s games.

We’ve longed criticized Dave Roberts for his penchant to trust his players in big spots, often to see them not come through and Dodgers not win the close games. But Roberts saw something in Kemp, and he produced. Not once, but twice. Against the same pitcher, Archie Bradley, who was specifically brought into Sunday’s game to face Kemp, even though he had homered off him the day before. It was back to feeling like last year, when it felt like you couldn’t make up what was happening but it still did.

There’s plenty of fresh faces in the Dodgers’ clubhouse now too, due to the September call-ups and trades the front office made at the waiver deadline. Ryan Madson and David Freese have already had some impact on their new club. Freese got a hit and a walk in his first two at bats as a Dodger. Madson was brought in with a 1-0 lead and promptly walked the bases loaded with one out. He was almost saved by a spectacular throw from Cody Bellinger to home but Grandal didn’t tag the runner in time.

Alex Verdugo and Tim Locastro, both of whom were brought up from Triple-A Oklahoma City, scored the winning runs in Sunday’s game. Verdugo walked, and Locastro replaced Max Muncy after he also drew a walk.

But there’s still a lot to be wary of. As previously mentioned, the Dodgers didn’t score a lot of runs. Sunday’s game only saw three total hits, and two were off the bat of Walker Buehler. The bullpen is still a bit questionable. Even though Kenley came in and got his outs in all three outings over the weekend, he still had some shaky moments.

But the difference is they came back to win those games. There wasn’t the feeling of one or two runs being too much to overcome like there had been previously in the season. These were the do-or-die moments, and they stepped up to the plate, pun intended. The Dodgers could have very easily found themselves buried in the division again, and instead, they have a one-game lead.

The Dodgers will now take that momentum and face the New York Mets for three games before embarking on a big road trip. They will be tested right away, as they face Jacob deGrom Monday, a leader in this year’s Cy Young race. DeGrom has 11 starts this season with one or less runs over seven-plus innings of work. He has a 1.86 ERA, but the Mets have lost 16 of his 27 starts. For a team with a maligned offense, Dodgers’ starting pitcher Alex Wood will have to keep them in the game.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see some late-inning heroics again.

 

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