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Friday, July 19, 2013
The roll remains unbroken

By Mark Saxon


Four days of inactivity didn't blunt the Los Angeles Dodgers' edge.

They picked up their 18th win in the last 23 games with a 3-2 road victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday, and a lot of the first-half trends carried right past the All-Star break. Hanley Ramirez is still scathingly hot. Yasiel Puig still does stunning things on a baseball field, good or bad. Andre Ethier and Kenley Jansen continue to be underrated pieces of the puzzle.

Ethier hit the decisive home run off Rafael Soriano in the ninth inning, but perhaps the most physically impressive part of the game came two innings earlier. Puig sprinted into the right-field corner -- out of view of the TV cameras initially -- and made a running catch before nearly running face-first into the wall that runs down the line. That ended an inning in which Washington had the go-ahead run at second base.

It's a mixed bag. Puig also airmailed another cutoff man to give Washington a dangerous threat in the fourth inning. Ricky Nolasco deftly pitched around it, getting three outs without giving up a run after Washington had loaded the bases with nobody out.

Puig and Carl Crawford, who were both nursing minor injuries before the break, went a combined 0-for-8 in the first two spots in the lineup, but Ramirez -- hitting .382 -- smashed an opposite-field two-run home run off a 95 mph Stephen Strasburg fastball in the third inning.

The Dodgers are hoping to hold on for the next 3 1/2 weeks facing a stretch of schedule that has them playing 17 games against teams with winning records in their next 23 games. After Aug. 11, the schedule eases considerably.

The Dodgers popped their heads above .500 again and trimmed the Arizona Diamondbacks' lead in the NL West to two games entering Arizona's night game against the San Francisco Giants.

Jansen nailed down his seventh save in his last seven chances, pitching a pristine ninth. He has a 1.37 ERA and opponents are hitting .200 against him since June 1.

The ninth-inning home run was Ethier's seventh go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later in the last five seasons, tied for most in that span with Matt Kemp, Adam Jones, Chris Young and Jay Bruce, according to ESPN Stats and Info.