LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their last-minute push.
They beat the Colorado Rockies 7-1 on Sunday afternoon to complete the three-game sweep and win their fifth straight game, but didn't gain any ground in the wild-card hunt. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 10-4 Sunday and have a two-game lead with just three games left.
Should the teams finish in a tie by the end of Wednesday's games, they would break it Thursday at Dodger Stadium. Both teams' final series are against first-place teams, the Dodgers hosting the San Francisco Giants and the Cardinals hosting the Cincinnati Reds.
Catch a fire. How hot has Matt Kemp been? Well, in his past five games, he has 11 hits in 20 at-bats (.550), including three doubles, four home runs and nine RBIs. So, yeah, pretty hot. If you were to graph the Dodgers' fortunes and Kemp's hitting over the past six weeks, they would practically line up. If he had gotten his swing together a week earlier, would the team still be in this desperate position? If he hadn't gotten it together last week, would anyone still care about these games?
Causing headaches. Luis Cruz was hitting in the indoor batting cage Friday when a ball ricocheted off a pole and smacked him behind the left ear. He was feeling a little fuzzy and later had to come out of the game. Cruz apparently didn't have any concussion symptoms and he got back in the lineup Sunday, which proved important since he ripped a two-run home run into the Dodgers' bullpen to break the game open in the fourth. No matter what happens between now and Wednesday, this guy has been the positive story line of the second half.
Beckett's bounce. First-pitch temperature was 95 degrees and Josh Beckett looked like he wasn't particularly keen on exerting himself when he barely budged from the mound to cover first base on Rafael Ortega's little dribbler to first. But he seemed alert after that first-inning blunder, getting through six solid innings. Pitching in the National League seems to suit Beckett, and that's encouraging for next season. He allowed at least four runs in five of his final six starts for Boston, but has allowed three or fewer in five of his seven starts for the Dodgers.
The scare. This little Dodgers push probably would have come to an end if Kemp had gotten injured in a collision with Rockies catcher Jordan Pacheco in the fifth inning. Kemp had to make a read well before he got there and he barreled into Pacheco rather than trying a hook slide. The score was 4-1 at the time. You can't blame Kemp for his desire to score. You can question his judgment. Some have said he needs to ease up when he's approaching outfield walls, too. It's a fine line between playing smart and being passive, though.
Lefty situation. Don Mattingly wrote Andre Ethier into his lineup -- batting seventh -- Sunday even though the Dodgers were facing lefty Jorge De La Rosa and Ethier was hitting .220 off lefties coming in. It seems like that's the right thing to do. At this time of year, you want to go -- or go down with -- your best players. One of the keys to the Dodgers' 2013 season will be Ethier getting a better approach -- or more confidence -- against lefties. He went down against De La Rosa with a pop-up and strikeout.
Help. The Dodgers put themselves into this difficult spot by sleepwalking through the first three weeks of September. But they didn't get much of an assist from Washington, which clinched a playoff berth when the Dodgers were there 10 days ago. The Nationals allowed 26 runs in their three games with the Cardinals and lost two of them. They nearly blew a four-run lead in the only game they won before rallying to win it in extra innings. After Sunday's game, Washington manager Davey Johnson told reporters, "It's better to clinch it at home anyway." The Dodgers have to hope Cincinnati puts up more of a fight, because they need a lot of things to go in their favor this week.