Is Matt Kemp back just in the nick of time?
The Los Angeles Dodgers' best hitter, stuck in a miserable hitting slump for nearly a month, came up with a game-winning hit for the second time in three games Friday night. Both times, Kemp pulled it off in a two-strike count.
He singled home the go-ahead runs in the 10th inning of the Dodgers' 3-1 road win over the Cincinnati Reds. With 11 games left, the Dodgers are back to within two games of the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the second wild card.
Chipping in. Joe Blanton didn't exactly look like a great acquisition in August, when he had a 6.67 ERA. But two of his best starts have been his last two, when the Dodgers desperately needed him. Blanton did what virtually every Dodgers starter has been doing lately: He pitched deep enough and well enough to give the Dodgers every opportunity to win it. He got two outs in the sixth inning, allowed just one run and four hits, and struck out six batters. Solid.
Holding it down. When it comes time to point fingers for why the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of so many opportunities, don't even glance at the bullpen. Kenley Jansen is back, giving the Dodgers a deeper look. Ronald Belisario, along with most of the other relievers, is on a roll. He struck out five of the six men he faced, locking down two innings to -- again -- give the Dodgers more chances.
Acting 101. When you're pinch-hitting and trying to jump-start a struggling offense, the idea is simply to get on base and make things happen. Elian Herrera managed to do that two nights in a row. He appeared to get out of the way of an inside fastball in the 10th but was able to convince plate umpire Joe West he got hit. Hey, whatever it takes. Herrera scored the winning run on Kemp's single to right field.
Key at-bat. An old bugaboo came back at a crucial juncture Friday night. Andre Ethier had a rough at-bat at the key moment of the game against a left-handed pitcher. Those matchups have plagued Ethier all season, but not as much lately during his hot streak in the past month. Against a very tough left-handed reliever, Sean Marshall, Ethier went down feebly with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning, striking out on three pitches. Kemp bailed him out.
Offensively challenged. Kemp can't do it alone, though he came close Friday. The Dodgers had a whopping seven hits and Kemp had three of them. They had one walk. Until they start giving themselves more opportunities to score, this slump is going to continue. When a team is struggling to get on base, innings go fast. The Dodgers can breeze through long stretches of games without generating much action. For them to get on a roll, that will have to change. And there's not much time left.
Deep funk. Nobody is struggling like catcher A.J. Ellis. He has gone nearly two weeks without a hit. His last one came on Sept. 9. He's 0 for his last 26. That, folks, is a deep, deep slump. It's not as if the Dodgers need massive production from the No. 8 spot in their lineup, but every little bit they can get right now would help.