Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, Nationals 1

LOS ANGELES -- When Clayton Kershaw walked off the mound Tuesday night, fans near the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout and elsewhere chanted "MVP!" for the first time this season. They just might know what they're talking about.

With the Dodgers struggling a bit over the past week and the rival San Francisco Giants on a roll behind them, Kershaw was there to rescue his team again with a fairly routine dominance, at least by his standards. He shut down the National League-leading Washington Nationals, and the Dodgers got a 4-1 win to keep their division lead at two games with 23 left.

How it happened: Kershaw never looked threatened, with no base runner reaching second base until Bryce Harper caught a low, 94-mph fastball and cranked it into the right-center stands in the seventh inning. It wasn't Kershaw at his most dominant, but it was another step on the MVP path: eight innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. He has four or, possibly, five more starts to pick up three wins and reach the 20-win mark despite missing six weeks with a back injury.

The Dodgers benefited from a comedy of errors by Washington infielders during a strange fifth inning. It looked like Kershaw had picked the wrong outfielder to run on when Bryce Harper’s throw from center field appeared to beat him to third, but Anthony Rendon inexplicably threw to second and Dee Gordon slid headfirst under Asdrubal Cabrera’s tag. Later, when Adrian Gonzalez hit a slow roller to shortstop Ian Desmond, Desmond bobbled it and then threw it over catcher Wilson Ramos’ head to allow two runs to score.

Juan Uribe later jumped on Doug Fister’s first pitch to him in the sixth inning and clubbed a two-run home run.

Hits: Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt deserves some credit for spacing out the rotation so Kershaw will pitch in the Dodgers’ biggest games this month. After facing the San Diego Padres on Sept. 8, two of Kershaw’s next three starts will come against the Giants. And if the teams haven’t decided the division by Sept. 28, Kershaw would be lined up to pitch in a one-game playoff the next day, or a wild-card game the following day. That’s a pretty good safety net.

Misses: The Dodgers got away with some questionable baserunning decisions because of Washington’s sloppiness, but not all of them. Matt Kemp got thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on Carl Crawford’s bunt single in the fourth inning. Fister fielded the ball and threw it away. Kemp broke for him even though the ball never reached the outfield grass. It was a costly mistake as the Dodgers would have had first-and-third with nobody out, instead of a man at first with an out. They didn’t score.

Stat of the game: Kershaw is unbeaten in his past 19 starts against NL East opponents, going 15-0.

Up next: The series continues with a rare midweek day game at Dodger Stadium. Carlos Frias (0-0, 5.65 ERA) will make his first start for the Dodgers after eight relief appearances. He’ll be opposed by Washington ace Jordan Zimmerman (10-5, 2.93) in a game that starts at 12:10 p.m. PT.