CHICAGO -- The intermission is over.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' side trips to Colorado and Chicago were just biding time between the two series that will decide the National League West, one last weekend in San Francisco and the next three days at Dodger Stadium. Lucky for the Dodgers, they paid enough attention in the interim to win four of the seven games, including Sunday's 8-5 victory over the hapless Chicago Cubs at breezy, cool Wrigley Field.
The Dodgers reduced their magic number to win the division to four games, meaning they could clinch as soon as Tuesday.
How it happened: Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was nervous before the game even though he had made the call to push Dan Haren's start back to Monday to face the Giants. The "bullpen game" worked fine in the end, though it would have been dicey if the Dodgers hadn't scored so many runs, tallying in six of the nine innings. Jamey Wright started for the Dodgers and got them through the first two innings before giving the ball to Carlos Frias, who struck out five and gave up three runs, an improvement over his disastrous start last week at Coors Field. The Dodgers also got a big outing by Pedro Baez, who bridged the gap to closer Kenley Jansen. He gave up a Welington Castillo home run but held the lead. Jansen punctuated the "bullpen game" with his 43rd save, a shaky one.
Hits: Matt Kemp has hit more home runs in September (seven) than any player in baseball, but he has been swinging a hot bat since well before the start of the month. He has hit 15 of his 23 home runs since the All-Star break and slugged .575 since then. Like the 2011 version of Kemp, it has looked like effortless power at times. He hit one into the right-field stands, through a cool, brisk wind that was blowing in, to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead in the third inning. Those were two of Kemp's four RBIs on the day. The Dodgers are glad they didn't trade Kemp in July because their offense would be nowhere near as potent without him.
Near misses: The wind played tricks on Kemp in right field in the seventh inning. Javier Baez sent a high fly ball soaring toward right-center, but the wind carried it sharply in and toward the right-field corner. Kemp drifted then went sprinting and got to it, but the ball popped out of his glove. He caught it in the air, making for an eventful experience on what is normally a routine out. Later, Yasiel Puig drifted over and caught one underhand.
Stat of the game: It's a little misleading since this was a rare four-game series, but the Dodgers scored more runs at Wrigley Field in this series than they had at any time since the team relocated from Brooklyn in 1958. The Dodgers piled up 37 runs. The previous high was a 1974 three-game series in which they scored 33.
Up next: The Dodgers have a chance to clinch the NL West during a three-game series against the second-place Giants that starts Monday. Haren (13-11, 4.14 ERA) pitches for the Dodgers as San Francisco goes with Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.16). The game starts at 7:10 p.m. PT.