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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
3 Up, 3 Down: Dodgers 7, Nationals 6 (Game 2)

By Mark Saxon

Matt Kemp finally had his MVP moment.

The Dodgers blew a 6-0 lead in the eighth inning, but Kemp -- mired in the worst September slump of his career -- blasted a solo home run to dead center field leading off the ninth inning, and L.A. pulled off a desperation 7-6 win over the Washington Nationals in Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader in the nation's capital.

The Dodgers kept within two games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the last wild-card spot with 13 games left.

The Good:

Slump buster. Entering Wednesday, Kemp was batting .122 with one home run and two RBIs in September. That's not exactly the production you're looking for from your most important hitter in your most important games. Kemp's home run came on a letters-high fastball on an 0-and-2 count, a good sign he's got his bat speed back. Given their newfound depth, the Dodgers don't really need Kemp to carry them anymore. But they need a lot more than they'd been getting.

Cruising (for a while). Josh Beckett was in the process of pitching his best game of 2012 when things got dicey in the eighth inning. Beckett had pitched seven shutout innings, but the Dodgers hardly had time to get a reliever up in the eighth as Beckett gave up a couple of bang-bang home runs, and suddenly, their lead was cut to 6-3. Despite the late flurry, it was a strong start for Beckett, who allowed five hits. Curiously, he struck out only two batters. But he took advantage of a big lead to keep the ball deep into the game. It was welcome news for a rotation suddenly depleted with injuries.

Some production. The big four of Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier had six hits among them and finally drove the offense forward. The way the middle of this lineup had been going, that was a big improvement. Ramirez had a key broken-bat hit early, and all four guys did something to advance the Dodgers' cause, a break from a relentless slump for the team's best-paid hitters.

The Bad:

Big boot. Earlier this season, Gonzalez jokingly referred to himself as a "defensive specialist." He had fielded his position brilliantly until Wednesday, when he booted a tricky two-hopper in that pivotal eighth inning, giving the Nationals an extra out they would make the most of. They scored three unearned runs -- the kind that can sink a team's season.

Specialist. Don Mattingly is careful to put reliever Randy Choate in situations in which he can succeed. He rarely faces right-handed batters and often faces only one hitter in a game. When Mattingly does ask a little more of Choate, things rarely go well. Choate, acquired in the same trade that landed Ramirez, couldn't slow down the landslide Beckett started. Without recording an out, he allowed two hits and the Nationals suddenly had late life.

Spark lacking. Shane Victorino isn't exactly making himself a prime attraction in this fall's free-agent market. After going 1-for-7 on Wednesday, Victorino is batting .208 in September. His slump seemed to coincide with the big trade that included Carl Crawford, who figures to start in left field next year, leaving no room for Victorino. If this team could ever get its table setters going at the same time its power hitters produce, this slump could finally end.