Well that happened fast. Just a week ago the Dodgers were in third place in the NL West, 4.5 games back of the Diamondbacks, and enduring all kinds of misery having to do with their season-long disappointment in close games. And here they are, on the first Monday of September, alone with the division lead after taking three of four from the Diamondbacks in what has to be the best series to date of this regular season.
I really want to impress upon you how tight and touch-and-go this series was. It flipped the NL West race on its head and redefined the stretch run for both teams, and the Dodgers outscored the Diamondbacks in the series by just one run, in a four-game set that produced a whopping 19 total runs. The Dodgers won the last three games each by the score of 3–2. Worse, the Diamondbacks had the lead in the seventh inning or later of each of those games, and came away with zero victories, and dropped to third place in the division. Brutal.
The Diamondbacks were up 2–1 late on Friday, before Kiké Hernández and Justin Turner took Zach Greinke deep in the seventh and eighth innings to give the Dodgers the one run lead. But slim leads haven’t been especially safe for the Dodgers of late, not since the return of Kenley Jansen on August 20. Jansen gave up at least one run in each of his first four appearances since returning from a stint on the disabled list to manage an irregular heartbeat, collecting a blown save and two losses for his efforts, and compounding the team’s season-long inability to win close games. But Jansen worked around a one-out double from Paul Goldschmidt to collect his first scoreless inning and first save since August 7, and restore a little bit of confidence that the Dodgers can, in fact, win games by fewer than five runs.
The Diamondbacks were in an even stronger position Saturday, leading 2–0 headed into the bottom of the eighth, with setup man Archie Bradley on the mound. Bradley is extremely reliable. He’d given up a grand total of one run across his last eight appearances, stretching back to August 13. But shit went haywire quickly—after striking out pinch-hitter Max Muncy, Bradley allowed a single to Turner and a walk to Manny Machado, to set the stage for the grizzled Matt Kemp:
That 427-foot bomb held up as the game-winner when Jansen, pitching for the second night in a row for the first time since late July, worked around another double to record a scoreless inning and another crucial save.
Which brings us to Sunday. Those poor fuckin’ Diamondbacks. This time it was their own late heroics that set the stage for the dramatic finish. Alex Avila drove in Goldschmidt with a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh, to knot the game up at one run apiece. And then, in the top of the ninth, Daniel Descalso ripped a go-ahead solo dong off Dodgers reliever Caleb Ferguson, convincing Roberts to call upon Jansen once again. Now. Jansen hadn’t pitched three consecutive nights since the first three days of May. Roberts had been hoping to avoid using Jansen under such circumstances, but Descalso’s dinger changed matters:
With Jansen having pitched Friday and Saturday, Roberts said he wanted to minimize Jansen’s workload by letting the left-handed Ferguson start the inning against the left-handed Descalso.
“If I can steal an out and shorten his workload, that was the goal,” Roberts said. “It just didn’t work out.”
It’s September now and the Dodgers are suddenly right back in it and these games mean everything. So Jansen came on and, true to recent form, worked around yet another double to get the Dodgers out of the inning without allowing too much damage. And then this happened:
Matt Kemp! Again! For the win! Kemp’s walk-off double put the Dodgers a full game up on the Diamondbacks in the NL West, and kept them half a game up on the Colorado Rockies. The NL Wild Card is a jumble, with five teams within 3.5 games of the top spot, so breathing room atop the NL West will be an extremely hot commodity over the last few weeks of the regular season. The Dodgers, who appeared to be fading out of postseason contention as recently as 10 days ago, now sit atop their division, a spot finally befitting their league-best run differential. They’ve won eight of 10, with a series against the lowly Mets on the docket before another crucial three-game division set, this time against the Rockies.
The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, are reeling. They’ve scored 23 runs over their past 10 games, and tension is high. Steven Souza Jr., who struck out Sunday night against Kenley Jansen with a runner in scoring position to end the top of the ninth, lost his cool Saturday night at a beat reporter who prompted him to reflect upon the team’s recent rough offensive stretch:
“How is it a rough stretch?” Souza said. “Explain to me how it’s a rough stretch.”
“We just faced Madison Bumgarner,” he said, cutting off a reporter. “We faced Clayton Kershaw. We faced Rich Hill. We faced (Dereck) Rodriguez. This isn’t a rough stretch; these are good pitchers. I’m not going to keep answering these questions. I’m done answering these questions.
“If you have anything else to ask me, I’ll answer it. But I’m done. I’m tired of answering this all year. The job is to win ballgames. We need to score more than them. That’s it. I’m done today. Thank you.”
If Souza was this grouchy and wound up Saturday night, surely he is chewing a leather belt Monday morning. The Diamondbacks play two games against the lousy Padres, and then play six straight series against teams that are either leading their division or are the Rockies. In the space of one holiday weekend, they went from NL West favorites to the deepest of shit, in a series that was within their grasp the entire way. What a ridiculous swing.